LUSAIL, Qatar (Reuters) - Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal hailed the efforts of his squad in fighting back from two goals down to force their World Cup quarter-final against Argentina into a penalty shootout even though their ultimate exit proved to be painful.
The Dutch staged a dramatic comeback with two late goals to level their match 2-2 after the 90 minutes and take the last-eight encounter at the Lusail Stadium into extra time, where the scoreline stayed the same until the final whistle.
But they squandered their first two penalties and went on to lose the shootout 4-3.
“I had asked the players to train penalties at their club and they did that. It was a fantastic achievement to come back from 0-2 down to 2-2 but then to lose on penalties is tough," he said.
“I can’t blame myself, I think, we prepared everything. My players fought to the end and they are dead in the changing room.
“They gave everything and I’m really proud, we didn’t lose in 20 matches,” Van Gaal said of his record in his third spell as Dutch coach after taking over in September last year.
He now leaves at the end of his contract.
“In the shootout we missed the first two penalties and that put pressure on the rest of the penalty takers. It is still a lottery and luckily for them (Argentina) they won,” he added.
The Dutch did not start the game well, the 71-year-old coach admitted. “The problem is we were not able to find free man with the ball. I tried to solve it at halftime and we then changed our tactics three times in the second half.
“We fought unbelievably hard to come back from a 2-0 deficit against a powerful Argentina who can defend very well.”
Van Gaal also felt the Dutch lost initiative in extra time but said this was “logical” due to fatigue.
“In the second half we ran a lot more than Argentina and there were a few players on their last legs. We thought we’d win on penalties because of the training we’ve done.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)