You’re your country’s number one goalkeeper and it’s the 121st minute of a World Cup quarter-final. The match is scoreless and the prospect of a penalty shoot-out seems inevitable.
You’re mentally preparing for what’s about to happen next when you glance at the fourth official on the sideline and see your number being held up. The realization hits that you’re being substituted. You trudge off the pitch and see your replacement become the hero in the subsequent shootout.
For anyone it’s a cruel, cruel fate to experience. For Jasper Cillessen, the national goalkeeper of the Netherlands, it was something he had to live out.
Against Costa Rica the then Dutch coach Louis van Gaal had planned to replace Cillessen with Tim Krul if the match was heading towards penalties. The problem for Cillessen was that he wasn’t aware of his coach’s intentions.
The reasoning behind the substitution was that the 25-year-old had never saved a penalty in his professional career though Tim Krul, his replacement, went into the shootout keeping out just two of 20 previous spot kicks. Cillessen was filmed kicking a water bottle when he came off the pitch, an incident he later apologized for.
Interestingly, Kenneth Vermeer who was vying for the number one spot with Cillessen at Ajax before moving to Feyenoord seemingly couldn’t stop saving penalties. He saved 10 out of 15 during his career at Ajax, at one point keeping out seven in a row.
Ultimately, the plan worked with the Newcastle United keeper saving efforts from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umaña. It marked the Netherland’s first penalty shootout win in a major competition.
The decision must have hurt Cillessen, who has won more battles than he has lost over his career, but if it did he seems to have overcome the disappointment with a minimum amount of fuss.
Speaking on BBC’s World Football show Cillessen discussed his substitution against Costa Rica.
“You want to play every minute and it didn’t happen. It was strange but yeah now I can say I made history, football history. I’m part of football history so it’s a good thing”.
Asked if he was embarrassed about being substituted Cillessen emphatically said “no”. He realized that the decision played a big role in him lining up against Argentina in the semifinals. Unfortunately for Cillessen he could not repeat Krul’s heroics in the previous round as the Netherlands were knocked out on penalties.
Cillessen’s cool acceptance of what happened is remarkable given that the eyes of the footballing world were gazing upon him. Perhaps the Dutchman realizes how spectacular his rise has been, 10-months before the World Cup Cillessen was keeping in the second tier of Dutch football. Being calm and level headed aren’t the worst traits a goalkeeper could have.
Of the man who substituted him in the quarterfinals Cillessen was quick to point out how big a role van Gaal played in the Netherland’s World Cup run in Brazil.
“He (Louis van Gaal) made everything clear to everybody, you know your role and we’re a great team. There were no arguments inside of the group”.
The Oranje’s Euro 2016 campaign hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected. Cillessen believes that the Netherlands have lost a little of their surprise factor.
“I think the other teams know what to expect from us now. During the World Cup we changed the system and it was a bit of a surprise for the other countries but know they know what to expect. It’s hard but now we played a good game against Latvia, we won 6-0 so we’re still in it and we want to go to France”.
At 25, Cillessen has a long future ahead of him and should his progression continue at a rapid rate he could make the move from the Eredivisie to a bigger European league.
He is the number one keeper for the Netherlands and it looks like he’ll hold on to the gloves for a long time to come. Who knows he’ll probably save a penalty or two in a crucial shootout too.