Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Even in defeat, Van Gaal still takes the credit

Reda Maher

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Soon-to-be Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has got one heck of an ego.

Everyone knows it – he admits it himself. But it takes some gumption to claim responsibility for a penalty shoot-out win when your side was the one that lost.

And that’s exactly what the Netherlands boss did after his side went out of the World Cup semi-finals on spot-kicks to Argentina.

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And how did Van Gaal mastermind Argentina’s triumph exactly?

“I taught Sergio Romero how to save penalties,” said the former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax tactician afterwards.

Indeed, the least renowned club Van Gaal managed – while rebuilding his career between 2005-09 – was AZ Alkmaar, where he coached Romero for two years.

After the match Romero paid tribute to Van Gaal for “everything he did for me in Holland”.

“When I arrived at AZ Alkmaar I couldn’t speak the language, but he spoke Spanish and helped me.”

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Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella explained that Sampdoria keeper Romero - who struggles to get a club game and spent part of last season on loan at Monaco – is something of a penalty obsessive.

“Romero has a huge file regarding all teams and all players on where they take penalties,” he said.

Van Gaal has a dry, wry sense of humour. He was joking about Romero, admitting as such later in the press conference. But that uncertainty is what makes him such a fearsome adversary – you’re never quite sure if he’s playing with you, or if he is a genuine sociopath.

A notoriously dominant character, Van Gaal also claimed credit for the Dutch’s penalties win over Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, after the tactical and psychological masterstroke of sending on third-choice goalkeeper Tim Krul to replace Jasper Cillessen just before the shoot-out.

“If I had the chance, I would have subbed Cillessen again. But I didn't get that chance,” admitted Van Gaal, who had already used up his three substitutions.

Robin van Persie – who had struggled with a stomach injury before the match – “had to come off”, he added, explaining why Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the final ‘joker’ sub of the match.

He added that two of his players didn't want to take the first penalty kick, which is why Vlaar - who missed - stepped up. Talk about feeling the pressure.

Still, the Netherlands should have been braver in attack, only really going for Argentina in the latter stages of the 90 minutes.

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Van Gaal did a good job of managing Dutch expectations. After all they went out in the first round of the European championships, and were drawn in a so-called group of death with Spain and Chile, both of whom they beat with ease.

“Of course, we played a fantastic tournament,” he added.

“Nobody expected us to make it through to the next round."

Perhaps, but the Dutch – who started so well with that 5-1 thrashing of Spain – did appear to run out of steam in the knockout stages, needing a dramatic late turn to beat Mexico, and penalties to get past Costa Rica.

But Van Gaal being Van Gaal, couldn’t resist a barb at his hosts, and at FIFA, who he slammed for making them play for third place in Brasilia on Saturday.

"I think this match should never be played," said Van Gaal. "I've been saying that for 10 years. If you lose twice in a row and you look back on a tournament where you've played so marvellously but you leave as a loser after losing the last two matches."

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport
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