Crazy as it may be, the 2014 World Cup is nearing its end, and a pair of semi-final matchups will decide who advances to the final in Brazil.
Only four national teams remain vying for the world championship trophy, and after an unpredictable and insane group stage, results have been pretty much as expected from the knockout stage on through. Four national powerhouses stand left, with the surprise teams brushed to the side.
The final four that has unfolded isn't too shabby, as Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted:
World Cup semifinals: Brazil-Germany, Argentina-Netherlands. That'll work.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 5, 2014
Let's break down both of the semi-final matchups and predict who moves on.
Brazil vs. Germany
|Tue., July 8||4 p.m.||ESPN|
After all of the tests and all of the early upsets, one-half of the bracket has ended up just as most expected—Brazil vs. Germany for a spot in the final.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's men have been tested mightily throughout the group stage and again in elimination matches against Chile and Colombia, but they have stood tall through the South American quarter of the bracket. It hasn't quite been convincing, but the hosts are just 180 minutes away from their sixth world championship.
In the machine-like fashion that you'd expect, Germany have churned on toward a fourth consecutive trip to the World Cup semi-finals. They topped the group of death, and after an extra-time test against the Algerians, they ousted France 1-0 in the quarters.
It's a matchup that pegs two of the world's best, per ESPN's John Buccigross:
Brazil and Germany meet in the semifinals on Tuesday. They've combined to win 8 of the previous 19 World Cup titles.— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) July 5, 2014
But with one story that developed in the wake of Brazil's quarter-final win, the entire scope of this matchup changed, per ESPN SportsCenter:
BREAKING: Neymar has been ruled out of World Cup w/ a fractured vertebra. » pic.twitter.com/QOJxe89q2h— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 4, 2014
Neymar is out for the rest of the World Cup, and without their talisman who leads the squad in goals, shots and nearly every offensive statistic will be sorely missed. The Barcelona man leads the attack, and the Brazilians will struggle to find direction without him.
Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports thinks his absence changes things:
My favorite for the World Cup has always been Brazil. But with Neymar out and Thiago Silva suspended, Germany become the favorite on paper— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 5, 2014
Even if Brazil had Neymar, struggles for the host nation against the Germans should be expected. Joachim Low's side have only conceded one goal in the last three matches, and that was in extra time against Algeria after two German goals. Their defense is at a different level, with four centre-backs magnificently balancing the duties on the back line.
Brazil have found magic in stretches throughout play in the World Cup, and they certainly could pull some more magic out even without Neymar. But the depth of quality talent across the 23-man roster for Germany will prove to be too much.
Prediction: Germany 1, Brazil 0
Argentina vs. Netherlands
|Wed., July 9||4 p.m.||ESPN|
After a Saturday slate complete with two exciting affairs and one goal between them, the favorites advanced to the semi-finals, as Argentina and the Netherlands will clash for a spot against either Brazil or Germany for the crown.
Led by Lionel Messi, Argentina have made it into the final four of the bracket for the first time since 1990—a shocking statistic considering the talent on the Argentinian side.
But for the first time since the Diego Maradona days, as ESPN SportsCenter noted, Argentina are making a serious case for winning it all:
The Argentines haven't given up a goal since the group stage, but that will prove easier said than done through 90 minutes against the Dutch. Even so, one of the world's most potent attacks is trying to find its way.
The Netherlands made it through on penalties against Costa Rica, but they were held scoreless through 120 minutes. Chance after chance came and went, and none crossed the goal line, thanks to five Costa Rican defenders, per AP Sports:
Although both teams are undoubtedly happy to be going through, each has a problem area or two to work with. The Netherlands have to be worried that their endless scoring chances haven't paid off in the last two games other than two late moments against Mexico, and Argentina have found little offensive success themselves as of late.
Plus, Argentina have a serious absence to worry about, as winger Angel Di Maria will be unavailable, per Fox Sports News:
In a battle between two elite offenses, it's safer to go with the one in the best form. Although they didn't score, the Netherlands torched Costa Rica with 20 shots—eight on goal—and 67 percent possession. With more of a finishing touch, the Dutch could have won by three or four goals.
Argentina are always one flash of Messi brilliance away from winning any match, and their strong defense helps to allow for that. But after being held scoreless the last couple of matches, the blueprint is set for a talented Dutch back four to keep him under wraps.
South America would explode for a matchup between Brazil and Argentina in the final, but it's looking more tilted toward an all-European affair.
Prediction: Netherlands 2, Argentina 1
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