With the 2014 World Cup semi-finals matchups now set in the stone, it's time to both reflect on the round that was and explore what's on the horizon for the final four.
1. Neymar’s Injury, and What It Means for Brazil’s Chances Against Germany
It was obviously a very bad foul that put Neymar out of the World Cup. You don’t want to see a player with that kind of ability taken out of the tournament. But it’s not going to be as bad as we think for Brazil’s starting XI.
Oscar will play as the No. 10, and they’ll bring in someone like Willian on the right-hand side. So it will be Willian, Oscar and then Hulk on the left with Fred leading the line.
It's disappointing to see a truly world-class talent exit the World Cup, but it may be a blessing in disguise for Brazil, because Oscar is the equal of Neymar in many ways—in his ability to score goals, run with the ball, defend and create chances.
2. The Referee Lost the Plot in the Brazil-Colombia Quarter-Final
The referee obviously has a discussion with the players about how he wants the game to flow. So being in Brazil, he might say he wants both sides to play attacking football with flair, as there are quality players on both sides.
But what Carlos Velasco Carballo needed to do was show a yellow card in the first 10 or 15 minutes when the early challenges were going in and set the standard that he wasn’t going to accept nonsense from any of the players. He didn’t do that, which meant the game saw more and more of those challenges. Unfortunately, it means we’re going to miss Neymar as a consequence.
I’m a huge fan of the referee directing play. I like the referee to keep his involvement to a minimum, to just be a peripheral figure. But there’s a fine line, and he should have shown an early yellow card or two to calm things down a little bit.
3. Looking Ahead to the World Cup Semi-Finals
The Argentina vs. Netherlands semi-final will be the more pragmatic of the two.
We’re still going to see Brazil have a very good go, and they’ll play in the manner we’ve come to expect from them. But they’ll have to be very sure to defend much, much better against Germany, because the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller could punish them.
On the other hand, expect to see more of a war of attrition in the Argentina-Netherlands game. Wesley Sneijder and Georginio Wijnaldum will sit a little bit deeper to soak up the threat of Lionel Messi during what will likely be a very low-scoring game—perhaps 1-0 or 2-1.
4. Costa Rica Were Fantastic
Costa Rica put in an admirable effort.
Coming into the group stage, this was a team that had finished above Mexico in qualification. If Uruguay, Italy and England had been lumped with Mexico, we would have been calling it a Group of Death. But because Costa Rica is this little sliver of land without a great deal of world-football pedigree, they were taken very, very lightly in the group stage.
In spite of this, they were fantastic, and it's further proof that the World Cup is a legitimate tournament at world level. The notion that the Champions League or Premier League or La Liga is the be-all and end-all is nonsense, because 40 to 50 percent of the Costa Rica squad play their club football in Costa Rica.
It just goes to show that there are other parts of the world that are producing top-quality players who have the pride, passion and technical ability to succeed without having to go and play in Europe or the Premier League.
Stan Collymore is a former Liverpool, Aston Villa and England striker who has forged a hugely successful second career as a radio and TV broadcaster.