It has now come down to four teams to fight it out. MOHAMED SUHAIL previews and predicts the semi-final matches of the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil vs Germany
After all of the tests and all of the early upsets, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought that these two wouldn’t meet in the semis the moment their quarter-final fixtures were announced. Brazil faced Chile, and Germany faced France, two teams who’d just provide minor irritation to what many believed would be a sure-fire thing – the Seleção against Die Manschaaft.
Amazingly, for two World Cup powerhouses with 24 semi-final appearances between them from a combined 38 World Cup finals appearances, this will be just their second meeting in the competition after the 2002 final. That night an uncharacteristic Oliver Kahn mistake put Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil on their way to a fifth title.
No Neymar? No problem. The horrific foul which fractured Neymar’s vertebrae will be a major concern to Scolari’s team selection, in addition to captain Thiago Silva’s suspension. However, Scolari is most likely to pick Bernard, who came on as a substitute twice in both the Mexico and Croatia group stage fixtures. As for Silva’s case, Dante is the obvious candidate to replace the talismanic captain.
Germany, on the other hand, stumbled to an unconvincing 1-0 win over Les Bleus. The back line performed well but still, the fact remains that they did not create many chances. In midfield, Toni Kroos has been quiet and Mesut Ozil has been extremely average. In attack, only Thomas Muller seemed to be a threat to the French.
Home advantage is sure to favour the host nation, plus their strong team spirit that mirrors that of the 2002 World Cup-winning squad. The Germans are in the semi-final without having played a team of real quality yet. Brazil will not fear them.
Prediction: 2-1 to the Seleção
Netherlands vs Argentina
After a Saturday night where two giants of the world game played, the favourites advanced to the semi-finals, as Argentina and the Netherlands claimed victories over Belgium and Costa Rica respectively to book a rematch of the 1978 final.
Argentina boast superstars in Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain. But their performance against Belgium was far less convincing than many had hoped for. Only luck played a part in their team’s only goal, and had nothing to do with Messi.
But the loss of Di Maria forces coach Alejandro Sabella to slightly reshuffle his attack. Without the side’s primary facilitator working his magic in the attacking third, they will need to rely on Messi even more. The good news for Argentina is that they have found ways to advance without relying too much on their offense thus far. An interesting statistic is that all of their victories up to this stage have been by only a single-goal margin.
Netherlands, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about restructuring their attack. The deadly duo of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben have been nearly unstoppable thus far. Louis Van Gaal’s masterful tactical nous has been largely talked-about as the backbone of their progress, with the greatest example being his substitution of Tim Krul on for Jasper Cillessen just before the penalty shootout; the former went on to save two Costa Rican spot-kicks. For all the attacking firepower both sides have, the true story of this match could come down to possession.
If the Dutch are to dominate possession, they will go a long way towards keeping Messi under wraps. Without Di Maria in the mix to create goal-scoring opportunities for everyone around him, La Albiceleste are unlikely to duplicate their success against a side with not only as much star power as them, but with a greater team ethos and a better tactician in the dugout.
Prediction: 1-0 to the Dutch.