The semi-final matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup feature four teams who won despite not showing their best form in the quarter-finals. Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands all managed to outlast determined last-eight opponents, in victories that owed more to resilience than dynamic, attacking football.
Here are the full results from the quarter-final stage:
|France vs. Germany||Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro||0-1||Mats Hummels|
|Brazil vs. Colombia||Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza||2-1||Thiago Silva, David Luiz, James Rodriguez (P)|
|Argentina vs. Belgium||Estadio Nacional, Brasilia||1-0||Gonzalo Higuian|
|Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||Arfena Fonta Nova, Salvador||0-0||Netherlands won 4-3 on Penalties|
Of course, games are naturally tighter the closer a major tournament gets to its final round. However, the rather tepid displays in the quarter-finals have put pressure on some players to improve.
They include Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil, who has followed a difficult season at club level with a tame World Cup. But Ozil actually has a chance to make a decisive impact in the semi-final against Brazil, provided he can escape the host nation's defensive midfield players.
Meanwhile, the second semi-final clash between Netherlands and Argentina will be decided by the fortunes of a pair of central strikers.
Here are some predictions for how the final four will play out, based on some of things seen during the quarter-finals.
Brazil vs. Germany, Tuesday, July 8, 9 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. ET
Mesut Ozil Will Finally Deliver
If Germany are going to expose a deep and resolute Brazilian defensive structure, Ozil has to produce. That means the languid schemer has to take an active approach to getting on the ball.
In recent matches, the Arsenal man has had a tendency to stay glued to the flanks. That has prompted criticism in many quarters, with journalist Jan Aage Fjortoft the latest to have highlighted his struggles:
What's wrong with Özil? I love that player. But now he is running around as a shadow of his great himself.— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) July 5, 2014
But Ozil is still an incredible talent. He is at his best when he roams. Whenever he receives the ball in halfway spaces between wide and central areas, he is a threat to thread a through pass into the path of a forward runner.
With players such as Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze to aim for, Ozil must rediscover the creative touch that made him a star during the 2010 edition of this tournament:
The challenge will be whether or not he can the escape deep-lying midfield destroyers who shield Brazil's back four. Players such as Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho have all taken turns in this destructive role.
The former two are the most effective and will no doubt be tasked with suffocating the space Ozil wants to get into. But given how quickly the Germans recycle possession and shift positions, Ozil should still find freedom.
When he does, count on him picking a key pass that undermines Brazil at the back.
Netherlands vs. Argentina, Wednesday, July 9, 9 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. ET
Gonzalo Higuain Will Outshine Robin van Persie
Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi are the undisputed stars of the World Cup's second semi-final. But the game could actually hinge on the performances of the two classic central strikers on display.
That's where Gonzalo Higuain can outshine prolific Dutchman Robin van Persie. He's not always a regular, but Higuain is an underrated presence leading the line.
He has strength, guile and natural quality as a finisher. The former Real Madrid striker netted the winner against Belgium, a goal that has revitalised him.
He has also linked well with Messi during the tournament. Count on Higuain setting his more illustrious teammate free to win the match and put Argentina in the final.
By contrast, Van Persie has been rather out of sorts in recent games. He was substituted during the last-16 struggle against Mexico before fluffing a series of chances against Costa Rica.
These semi-final games will be decided by the players listed here. Both Higuain and Ozil have been somewhat overshadowed or considered disappointments.
But they are each primed for a decisive contribution during the tournament's penultimate stage.