SAO PAULO, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal praised his players despite losing to Argentina in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Argentina and the Netherlands remained goalless after 90 minutes and after extra time. In the penalty shootout Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero stopped the shots by Ron Vlaar and Wesley to give the South Americans a berth in the final against Germany on Sunday.
Van Gaal already used three substitutes, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar coming in for Robin van Persie in extra-time, so he could not repeat the remarkable goalkeeper substitution which was successful against Costa Rica. Tim Krul, the Dutch hero of the quarters, stayed inactive, while Jasper Cillessen was not able to stop any of the Argentine penalties.
"I'd already used three substitutes, so I couldn't," said Van Gaal. "We took those penalties in an incredible way against Costa Rica. It should have given us confidence."
Ron Vlaar missed the first one of the Netherlands. "I asked two players to take the first ball before ending up with Vlaar," Van Gaal added. "I thought he was the best player on the pitch so should have a lot of confidence. It just goes to show it's not easy scoring in a penalty shoot-out. It's the most terrible scenario, to lose on penalties: at the very least we were equal with them, if not the better team. It's a big disappointment."
Central defender Vlaar reacted: "I played the match of my life," he said. "I have never played better, I think. But ultimately it is about one thing: winning. That did not work. Our dream is gone."
Overall Van Gaal was pleased the performance of the Dutch team in Brazil. "We played a fantastic tournament," he said. "No one had expected us to make it through to the next phase, so as group winners we moved on and, after that, defeated Mexico. We were as a team not easy to beat and solid in terms of organization."
Arjen Robben had a good tournament, converted his penalty, but was not able to make the difference against the Argentines. "We can be incredibly proud," he said. "Of course we are disappointed, but we really gave everything as a team. We cannot blame anyone for this. We played a good match and even were more fit than Argentina. We also had some small chances, but unfortunately the goal did not come."
Robben was not looking forward to the third place match on Saturday against hosts Brazil in Brasilia. "We wanted to be world champions," he said. "I don't care about that other match now."