The semi-final stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup pits the best South America has to offer against Europe's two most exciting international teams. A wounded Brazil are sure to be challenged by Germany's skill and forward quality in the first semi-final clash.
After that, expect Argentina and the Netherlands to try and match the other, forward line for forward line. Both teams boast vast attacking talent, featuring some of the game's best players, including Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben.
Before delving into the predictions and the latest betting lines, here's a glance at the updated tournament bracket:
It's easy to see that none of the four teams involved have consistently shown their best form. The Dutch shocked the football world when they dismantled Spain in their opening game. But Louis van Gaal's team have appeared shaky since, being pushed all the way by Australia and Costa Rica.
Their semi-final opponents Argentina have offered only glimpses of their obvious excellence up front. The South Americans have also been vulnerable at the back, a fact Nigeria exploited.
As for Germany, they have been imperious at times going forward. Yet they have also been guilty of a certain fragility defensively.
However, that might not afflict them against host nation Brazil. They have been the most consistent team, but far from impressive.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has instilled a rugged resilience to suit a squad short on flair but stocked with physicality.
Here are the latest match lines for each semi-final clash:
|World Cup Semi-final Match Lines|
|Match||Odds Home Win||Odds Away Win||Odds Draw|
|Brazil vs. Germany||3-2 / +150||9-5 / +180||23-10 / +230|
|Netherlands vs. Argentina||2-1 / +229||7-5 / +148||21-10 / +220|
Bets on wins for Germany and Argentina should be particularly enticing, judging by the latest lines. The Germans can capitalise on a key injury within the Brazilian ranks, while Argentina still have too much star power for the Netherlands.
Here's a prediction for each game, including a final score, beginning with Brazil against Germany:
Brazil vs. Germany, Tuesday, July 8, 9 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. ET
German Defence Will Blank Brazil
A Brazil attack without Neymar, Jr. is a recipe for disaster for the hosts. The fleet-footed, roving forward was laid low by a fractured vertebra against Colombia.
That has removed the pace and fluid movement from Brazil's forward line. The absence of the latter quality will prove significant against Germany.
Centre-forward Fred and beefy winger Hulk just don't do enough to move defenders around. That's a shame because the German back line is cumbersome.
However, crafty and classy central stopper Mats Hummels will comfortably shackle Fred and identify any late runners. He was superb during the quarter-final triumph over France, as a Metro report from Jonathan Harding highlighted:
Hummels put in perhaps his best ever footballing display to seal Germany’s victory thanks to both his goal and his defensive efforts. It has become increasingly clear that whatever system Löw implements, it cannot function without the Dortmund man.
Hummels will be the key figure for a back four that will stifle the hosts and provide a springboard for Germany's own attacks. One of those forward raids will result in the telling goal.
Predicted Final Score: Brazil 0-1 Germany
Netherlands vs. Argentina, Wednesday, July 9, 9 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. ET
Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain Double Act will Down Netherlands
Argentina have lost both Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria to injury during these finals. However, the other half of their fabled attacking quartet is still intact, in the form of Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
That's bad news for the Netherlands. The complementary double act perfectly combines pace, technique, creativity and direct power. It's a blend that will be too much for the Dutch defence to handle.
Higuain, in particular, could prove to be the key. He is part of the support for Messi, support that is often underrated but can deliver at any time, as BBC Sport reporter Ben Smith noted:
Messi will not be able to do it alone. Part of the reason he did not have to drag his team-mates over the line against Belgium is because Argentina's supporting cast stepped up when they had to. Higuain answered his critics with a tremendous goal, this was a team effort.
With most of the attention naturally on Messi, teams overlook Higuain's predatory instincts at their peril. He is one of the few strikers who can be backed to take his chance even if he only gets one in a game.
The combination between the deadly centre-forward and Messi will put Argentina into a lead they won't relinquish.
Predicted Final Score: Netherlands 1-2 Argentina
Fans will be denied an all-South American spectacle in the final. But the Germans will earn their place after another professional display.
Meanwhile, defeat will leave Brazil wondering why they opted against a more expansive and attractive style of play on home soil. By contrast, Argentina's attacking riches will peak at just the right time, though they'll be no shame for the gallant and entertaining Dutch.
All odds taken from Odds Shark.