Only four teams remain in the running for the 2014 World Cup, and any neutral football fan must be drooling at the prospect of watching Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the tournament.
All four teams have strong roots when it comes to the tournament and have fielded some of the best players in the history of the game. Not one of the teams lost even a single match in the group stage.
It truly is a dream slate of fixtures for fans, and the oddsmakers have taken notice. The difference in quality between all four teams is minimal, and the latest world title odds reflect that. Let's have a look at the numbers, courtesy of Oddsshark, and use them to predict the outcome of the matches.
Germany (+178) v Brazil (+184)
Oddsmakers are giving Die Mannschaft a slight advantage over the hosts, and much will have to do with the absence of star striker Neymar. Via ESPN's Dale Johnson, his impact on this Brazil squad can't be underestimated:
Neymar had more goals, shots, chances created and attacking half touches than any other #BRA player at this World Cup.— Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) July 5, 2014
Germany certainly didn't dominate France in the quarter-finals, but they played a mature match and defended their early lead expertly. Manuel Neuer was hardly troubled by Les Bleus' attack, and when the likes of Karim Benzema finally did get a look on goal, they couldn't put the ball past the German stopper.
The Brazilians will be without Neymar and top defender Thiago Silva, who was booked against Colombia and is suspended for the semi-final. Via ESPN FC, the Selecao are appealing the suspension.
Plenty of clubs tried appealing suspensions during this year's editions of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, and unless a team has a very strong case, these bookings are never overturned.
The chances of Silva playing against Germany are slim at best, but in Dante, the Brazilians at least have a capable backup.
The Brazilians might be missing several key contributors, but according to the German players, the pressure will still be on them, not Die Mannschaft. Lukas Podolski told reporters as much, per The Telegraph's Jason Burt:
Brazil have the pressure because they are playing at home. If we play against 70,000-80,000 Brazilian fans in the stadium, it's OK. Every one of us plays away from home in big games. When you play at Tottenham, you are used to this - or in front of 40,000-50,000 at Liverpool as well.
Germany's main weakness has been the limited mobility of their full-backs so far, but the return of Philipp Lahm to his old right-back position seemed to fix that problem against the French squad.
Brazil will have to rework their squad a bit to deal with the absences, and they'll need to find a way to get a grip on the midfield proceedings. If Germany can dominate the battle in the centre like they usually do, they have to be favourites going into this tie.
Prediction: Brazil 0-1 Germany
Argentina (+148) v Netherlands (+230)
Louis van Gaal and his Dutch team needed a penalty shootout to finally end the Cinderella run of a valiant Costa Rican side, and they'll now face an Argentine squad that finally looked like a World Cup contender against Belgium.
The Red Devils didn't play a great game, but Argentina's much-maligned defensive unit did an excellent job containing their danger men. For a defence that has looked sloppy at best so far in the tournament, such a performance is encouraging.
They'll need a similar performance to get past the Netherlands, who have somewhat struggled since the start of the knockout stages.
Robin van Persie impressed with three excellent goals in the group stages, but his struggles in do-or-die matches have continued since—he has never scored a single goal in such contests.
Via OptaJohan, they do like playing against the Albiceleste:
1 - The Netherlands have lost only one of their previous eight meetings with Argentina (W4 D3). Ambition.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 6, 2014
This isn't the Dutch team of old: Van Gaal has built his squad through reaction football and discipline, preferring the counter to an all-out attacking style of play. The Netherlands can defend in numbers, and they have plenty of speed to take advantage of every inch of space.
Argentina have gotten used to seeing men behind the ball, however. With the exception of the Belgians, just about every team has opted to do nothing but defend against Lionel Messi and Co., and Argentina have found a way to get past those defences every single time.
Gonzalo Higuain's strong performance against Belgium was sorely needed. The striker had been one of the World Cup's most disappointing players up until that point, and his emergence as an attacking force for this team will take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Messi.
Via PhysioRoom.com News, Angel di Maria's availability for the semi-final is in doubt:
Enzo Perez did a solid job replacing the injured Di Maria against Belgium, and he'll be counted on to do the same should the Real Madrid star miss out on the tie against the Netherlands.
The Albiceleste can play attacking football with the best of them, but in order to see off teams like the Netherlands, you need to field a solid defence as well. If the team can build on its performance against Belgium, a trip to the Maracana should be next.
Prediction: Netherlands 1-2 Argentina