Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal's tactics finally backfire in World Cup semifinals



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SAO PAULO — Louis van Gaal's luck finally ran out at the World Cup.

The Netherlands coach appeared to have a golden tactical touch in Brazil. He switched systems during matches to force victories, brought on substitutes who scored within minutes, posted a striker in defense and — most amazingly of all — swapped goalkeepers for a penalty shootout victory.

But in the semifinals against Argentina on Wednesday, he ran out of substitutes before he could pull that trick again and his team was eliminated in a shootout after Jasper Cillessen failed to stop any of Argentina's four penalties following a 0-0 draw.

"I'd have subbed him again if I'd had the chance," Van Gaal said. "But I didn't have the chance."

On Wednesday, his substitutions may have ultimately cost the Netherlands the game, and a place in the World Cup final.

He took off defender Bruno Martins Indi, captain Robin van Persie and midfielder Nigel de Jong.

That meant not only that he couldn't replace Cillessen with Tim Krul ahead of the shootout as he did so successfully against Costa Rica, but also that Van Persie, the designated first penalty taker in shootouts, had to watch from the bench as central defender Ron Vlaar's lead-off spot kick was saved.

Van Gaal said he asked two other players before turning to Vlaar, the Aston Villa center back who had an outstanding match against Argentina. He would not name those players.

Vlaar agreed and shot it too close to Sergio Romero and at a height that made it easy to save. The Netherlands was immediately behind in the shootout and never recovered.

Van Gaal didn't say why he didn't let more experienced players take their penalties first and leave Vlaar until last.

"Van Persie usually takes the first one but he was substituted so (Van Gaal) asked me and I said yes," Vlaar said. "I felt good. But if you take one you have to score and it didn't happen."

After the match, Van Gaal defended each change. Martins Indi was having a tough time defending Enzo Perez and had picked up a yellow card. He didn't want De Jong, just back from a groin injury from the second-round win over Mexico, to reinjure himself. And Van Persie was "on his last legs" and he thought substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar had more chance of scoring.

"But if you don't score, every substitution is wrong," the 62-year-old coach said.

Now Van Gaal has only what he considers a meaningless third-place match to prepare for before he heads to England to begin rebuilding Manchester United as its manager.

The Old Trafford faithful must be eagerly awaiting his arrival after this World Cup.

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