Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal Friday said there was no danger of taking quarter-final opponents Costa Rica lightly – but added that confidence is growing about his team’s World Cup chances.
Van Gaal said the three-time finalists would not be complacent against the giant-killing Central Americans, who have reached the quarter-finals for the first time.
But he indicated that the Netherlands, who have won four in a row in Brazil, were already considering a place in the final as they aim for their first World Cup title.
“No, no, no. I don’t think there’s any question of underestimating Costa Rica,” Van Gaal told reporters in Salvador.
“I would say that the players consider this to be the most important stage and they are going for their objective. And the objective is not something we want to underestimate.”
Injured midfielder Nigel de Jong said: “If Costa Rica got this far, it’s not for nothing. They did it with a lot of passion, belief and faith.
“They will play without pressure so we shouldn’t take them too lightly or underestimate them.”
’Los Ticos’ certainly deserve serious consideration after topping a group including World Cup-winners Italy, England and Uruguay and downing Euro 2004 champions Greece in the last 16.
But van Gaal said belief was growing in the squad after three come-from-behind wins, including the last-gasp 2-1 victory over Mexico in the first knock-out round.
“Our goal has always been to win world championships,” said the coach. ”We’re not a fantastic team but we’re a team that’s difficult to beat... and I hope we can keep that up, up to and including the final.”
Van Gaal admitted that it would be “very difficult” to replace De Jong, an intimidating physical presence in midfield who is out with a groin injury.
But he was heartened by the form of veteran playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who scored against Mexico and is one of a group of senior players who have taken a leadership role on the field.
“We were able to come back on two occasions knowing that penalties had been unjustly awarded,” said Van Gaal, referring to the games against Spain and Australia.
“If we go behind, in any case we corrected that situation three times already in this World Cup so I think we can remain rather confident in this respect.”
He added: “I’ve always said it’s not the most fantastic team but the best 23 players will win this World Cup. We’ve been able to achieve outstanding results... even if we lose, the Dutch team will fight every single minute to become world champions.”