For Steve Harper the most extraordinary World Cup penalty shoot-out of modern times wasn’t settled in the eyes, the posturing or the mind games – it was in the legs.
Tim Krul’s astonishing World Cup debut was the story of the quarter-finals in Brazil and indeed one of the most remarkable goalkeeping tales in the history of the tournament. Brought on with seconds remaining to replace number one choice Jasper Cillesen in Salvador, the Newcastle United stopper made two fine stops to send Holland into the last four and cement Louis van Gaal’s position as the manager of the tournament.
It was a barely believable outcome. Mastering the art of the penalty shoot-out has long been debated but van Gaal is the first manager to bring on a goalkeeper in such a big game – and the first one of any note since Martin O’Neill subbed on Zeljko Kalac in the 1996 play-off final. With respect to Foxes fans, this is on a slightly different level.
It was, according to his former Newcastle United colleague Harper, a “masterstroke” – both on the part of the Holland manager and the man who made such an impression on him when he first walked through the door at the Magpies’ Benton training base.
And forget talk of denting Cillesen’s confidence or Krul’s penalty box mischief-making, Harper reckons the goalkeeping union will definitely forgive the young Dutch hero.
“I’ve heard it talked about before never seen it happen – especially not in a game of that magnitude,” Harper says.
“It was a huge gamble by Louis van Gaal, an absolutely massive call but anyone who thought it might not pay off is probably not as aware of Tim as I am.”
Watching the footage of Krul’s demeanour when he stepped onto the pitch, Harper was convinced that van Gaal had made the right decision. Every inch of him screamed confidence.
He says: “As soon as I heard it was Tim coming on I knew he would relish it. He’s always been a confident lad and it is the sort of scenario that he would just take it.
“I saw him shaking his legs on the touchline and he looked like he couldn’t wait to get on. Nerves weren’t a part of it at all, which was encouraging from a Dutch point of view.
“Tim has always had confidence. From the first time I met him he always had it. He has real drive and determination and he always wanted to get as far as he could in his career which has worked out for him.”
While Krul’s performance has been celebrated in the Netherlands and the black and white corner of the North East, others have shot accusations of gamesmanship at him.
Krul strode confidently to the Costa Rica takers, gesticulating and shouting at them. There is no doubt that he was attempting to play mind games and gain an advantage over the takers, but were they fair game? Harper is unequivocal.
“People might have criticised his antics but it’s clever play. Other teams do it so why shouldn’t Tim do it?
“If you can gain an advantage over the opposition you have to take it and if he got in the heads of the Costa Rica players then it was worth it. I think to some people he might have gone a little bit too far but I never thought that at all.
“Strikers do it all the time. Look at the way some of them stutter their run up when they’re taking penalties. I don’t see that there was anything wrong with it.”
And what of the long-term effects of van Gaal’s decision to take off his recognised number one at such an important moment?
“Tim was brilliant and it was a masterstroke from Louis van Gaal,” he said.
“It’s a massive decision from van Gaal who had to make a big call at a key time and he didn’t shy away from it. The best managers ask questions and challenge players and ultimately they live and die by those decisions. Holland are in the semi-finals of a World Cup, which tells you everything.
“If I was Cillesen I might not be best pleased that I was taken off but when you see the team spirit in the Dutch squad I think it was obviously the right decision. Van Gaal came out straight away afterwards and explained that he would be back on the bench for the semi-final.
“There’s obvious team spirit there. It’s the kind of thing you don’t mind when you’re winning and when it is explained to you. I don’t think it will affect his confidence.”
Krul joins Julio Ceasar in the pantheon of goalkeeping heroes from the current World Cup and Harper feels it is reward for the Dutch stopper doing his homework.
“We always used to practise them in training. Me and Shay did it a lot but we didn’t save as many as we would have liked,” he said.
“As a goalkeeper it is something that you look into a lot. Penalties are one of the things that you can affect in a game so you put a lot of work into it. You study the opposition, you look at DVDs and especially in a game of that magnitude he will have gone through training and looked at what happened.
“Thankfully for Tim all that hard work that he put in has paid off and I was delighted that it did.”