Goalkeeping is a lonely existence. You stand in front of the goal, often reduced to a spectator, as your 10 teammates zip up and down the field. The blame aimed your way often overwhelms the plaudits. Anyone with a fragile psyche need not apply.
The Netherlands' Louis van Gaal violated a basic coaching precept Saturday when he yanked his keeper for a reason other than injury and at the strangest of junctures -- just before the penalty-kick shootout against Costa Rica. The result speaks, loud and clear, for the shrewdness of the switch. Substitute Tim Krul forbade two of five tries, propelling the Dutch into the World Cup semifinals Wednesday against Argentina.
A more debatable decision was not alerting Jasper Cillessen in advance that he might be lifted. Van Gaal's rationale was that he did not want to interfere with the starter's focus. But informing him beforehand might have forestalled the distraction of Cillessen stalking off the field and using innocent water bottles to angrily practice his goal kicks.
Van Gaal must win back Cillessen, who was replaced supposedly because of Krul's height and superior wingspan. (Another factor, left unsaid, is Krul's bold personality, illustrated by his borderline unsportsmanlike trash talk to Costa Rica's shooters.)
The task might not be troublesome. Cillessen calmed himself and hurried over to congratulate Krul when Costa Rica's last try went awry. Then he apologized to the team, explaining his petulance to the media thusly: "I knew nothing about this. The change was a shock to my system."
Van Gaal assured Cillessen that his status is unchanged. Now the coach must hope that, if another shootout is approaching, the starter is not looking at the Dutch's new closer warming up instead of Lionel Messi closing in on him.