The 2014 World Cup is down to four national teams, and after all of the unpredictable finishes and inspiring stories, only elite nations remain vying for the ultimate prize.
As expected, the host country of Brazil made it through to the final four, disposing of Chile and Colombia. Germany followed suit and will clash with the Brazilians for a spot in the final.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands and Argentina took care of business up until this point despite close finishes being the norm throughout.
Let's break down everything you need to know for the semifinal round of the World Cup.
|Tue., July 8||Brazil vs. Germany||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Wed., July 9||Netherlands vs. Argentina||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sat., July 12||Third-Place Match||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sun., July 13||Final||3 p.m.||ABC|
Brazil vs. Germany
In a battle of World Cup favorites and international heavyweights, Brazil and Germany will battle for the first of two spots in the July 13 final.
Although their meeting may have seemed inevitable heading in, neither side took a simple route to get to the semifinal. Both Brazil and Germany were taken into extra time at some point in an elimination game, and the Brazilians had to pull out one in penalty kicks against Chile.
But they're here, and that's all that matters. Only, it's not so simple for Brazil.
Late in Brazil's quarterfinal clash with Colombia, Neymar took a knee to the back from Juan Camilo Zuniga and hit the pitch writhing in pain. He was carried off, and it didn't look good.
As ESPN SportsCenter captures, he's out for the rest of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra:
BREAKING: Neymar has been ruled out of World Cup w/ a fractured vertebra. » pic.twitter.com/QOJxe89q2h— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 4, 2014
Playing without Neymar was seen as an impossible task heading into the tournament, but that's now a reality for Luiz Felipe Scolari's men. Now, more of the attack will be put on the shoulders of Fred, Oscar and Hulk along with likely replacement Willian.
It could play a huge part in the semifinal, along with the suspension of Thiago Silva as Darren Fletcher noted:
Very disappointed for Neymar & Brazil - with him injured & Silva suspended it makes it very tough against Germany in the semi final— Darren Fletcher (@DFletcherSport) July 5, 2014
Even with Neymar, Brazil would have a huge task in stopping the Germans. Joachim Low's side has resembled more of a machine than a football team in this tournament, finding their goal and sitting back with stifling defense.
Brazil struggled to find offense even with Neymar, and his absence causes a myriad of problems for the Brazilian attack. Meanwhile, Germany haven't exactly exploded with offense in recent matches but have done enough to get by.
As Mirror's John Cross noted, though, the crowd will always be on Brazil's side:
I wonder if Brazil - less Neymar and Thiago Silva (star player and captain) - can beat Germany. Huge game. Crowd momentum helps though!— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) July 5, 2014
Whoever scores the first goal will go a long way in this matchup. Brazil will certainly look to be the aggressors and set the tempo, but they may be unable to take too many chances with Germany's offense posing problems.
Netherlands vs. Argentina
Argentina and the Netherlands are set for the other semifinal showdown to decide who plays the winner of Brazil-Germany, guaranteeing a star-studded final no matter which side advances.
Although the matchup between the Dutch and Argentines pegs the two best teams to come out of their half of the bracket, it was a bumpy road for both—especially the Netherlands.
It took two late goals to survive against Mexico in the round of 16. Next up for the Netherlands was a test against World Cup darling Costa Rica, who didn't go quietly.
After a scoreless draw through 120 minutes, Tim Krul was inserted as goalkeeper and saved the day for the Dutch as ESPN FC noted:
The Netherlands couldn't put in any of their dozens of chances, but still survived to reach the semifinals. It will be a major step up in competition, however.
Argentina look formidable at the moment with an impenetrable defense and Lionel Messi heading the attack. Wins over Switzerland and Belgium have put them into the semis with a world of momentum.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted just how nice it was to see Messi reaching new heights with his national team:
Great to see Messi beaming in an Argentina shirt.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 5, 2014
But if either the Dutch or Argentines want to get to the final, they will undoubtedly earn their way there by going through an elite team.
The Netherlands have been here before, looking to capitalize on a veteran-clad roster full of superstar players who all suffered the pain of the 2010 final defeat. Meanwhile, Messi has his eyes on a World Cup title in his home continent—nothing else will be acceptable for the world's best.
Neither team has given up much on the defensive side, but also boasts enough up front to score goals at will. That makes for an interesting dynamic heading into this one, as goals could be scored in bunches or we could see another scoreless draw.
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