And then there were four. Out of the 204 countries that embarked on the World Cup journey, out of the 32 who made the trip to Brazil, there are now four.
Brazil vs. Germany
Estadio Mineirao Belo Horizonte 5pm
Year opened: 1965
Brazil's players attend a training session in Teresopolis near Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Marcelo Regua, Reuters
Germany's national soccer team warms-up during a training session in the village of Santo Andre. Photo by Arnd Wiegmann, Reuters
One of the most historic venues in Brazilian football, the Mineirao, home to three-time national champions Cruzeiro EC, will host this semifinals match.
Whether Neymar plays or not, this is what Germany will be against – the history of Brazil not losing a match on its home soil since 1975 (that’s nearly 40 years now), a Selecao that knows it is on the verge of the historic, and 62,000-plus screaming people.
I don’t think that the Germans will be rattled by the people as they have shown that they can play anywhere. They too have numbers on their side. They are the only country on God’s green earth to advance to the semifinals of the World Cup for the 13th time. The core of this team has progressed to this stage in the last three World Cups and if there is any time for them to realize their potential, then it is now.
Joachim Low’s side have not played the football they did in South Africa. That is due mainly to injuries on their side and others having a subpar World Cup. The Germans have the guile and skills to provide problems up front and it is in their best interest to score early and take the crowd out of it. Scoring early means Brazil will get nervous and that means making mistakes. Even during its quarterfinals win against Colombia, the Selecao looked shaky towards the end as Los Cafeteros made one last push that ultimately fell short.
Germany’s midfield and forward line is non-pareil. The chink in their armor are their slower defenders. Their attacking system sometimes leaves them with two defensive backs both who can be beaten by the likes of a Neymar and Arjen Robben. Maybe Low would want to consider a stopper in the middle to stem the wave of attacks that Brazil will surely launch.
Brazil played their best match of the World Cup against Colombia, in a 2-1 quarterfinals win. Even without Neymar and Thiago Silva, they still have quite the bench to replace the missing. Maicon, who we all know can play, was finally given a chance by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and he filled up that flank that was vacated by Dani Alves due to suspension.
Jo, Bernard, Hulk and Fred are their platoon at forwards and whether they have played well or not, one still has to consider them a threat.
The strength of Brazil has been its almost impenetrable backline that has been anchored by Marcelo and David Luiz. After a shaky start against Croatia, they have gotten steadier and more dependable. Both are physical and fast enough to deal with smaller forwards.
For Brazil to win, they will need others to step up. Fred has been a disappointment. If the forwards can place a lot of pressure on Germany’s defense that will bring up David Luiz and Marcelo who can score with their booming shots and headers.
Whoever sets the pace and tone of this match while being resolute on defense will win this match.
Argentina vs. Netherlands
Arena de Sao Paulo
Year opened: 2014
Argentina's national soccer team coach Alejandro Sabella (in white hat) talks to his players during a training session ahead of their 2014 World Cup semi-final match against the Netherlands. Photo by Gil Leonardi, Reuters
Netherlands' national soccer team coach Louis van Gaal gestures as he speaks to his players during a training session in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Pilar Olivares, Reuter
The Arena de Sao Paulo will be the home of Corinthians Paulista when the new league season in Brazil kicks off in a month’s time.
Right now, there are 20,000 temporary seats that will be on hand for this match but uninstalled after the World Cup.
Argentina is like Spain in the last World Cup, slow, not exactly great, but winning by one goal and garnering all three points. They, like the Netherlands, are the last unbeaten squads to take the maximum points in all their games.
La Albiceleste got good games from Angel Di Maria in the Round of 16 and Gonzalo Higuain in the quarterfinals as Leo Messi was somewhat checked. And that is good for Alejandro Sabella’s men to have the others finally getting untracked albeit late in this tournament because they have had problems scoring. With Messi finally playing at his best in the World Cup, Argentina is dangerous and for all their goal-scoring problems (six in five matches), they cannot be counted out.
It won’t be easy beating a team that has lots of veterans who are still at the top of world football. They still have holding midfielder Javier Mascherano and defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo to count on.
The Netherlands boasts of the best scoring record in the World Cup with 13 total. They have a good mix of veterans in Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Nigel De Jong to go with their young core of Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi, Daryl Janmaat, Stefan De Vrij, Memphis Depay, Jeremain Lens and Leroy Fer.
They’ve got attacking flair and purpose but their weakness has been the flanks. If De Jong can protect the gap between the midfield and the defense and Sneijder can spray passes to Robben and Van Persie they will be even more tougher.
Like the Argentines, the Dutch have seen some of their veterans finally contribute mightily and that’s Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt.
The more players who play their best the better it will be for either squad.
But to date, the Dutch have had one other advantage – manager Louis Van Gaal who has been operating at a genius level in this World Cup.
And that is a plus for the Netherlands that they have a boos who knows how to counter the opposition’s moves.