In a World Cup defined by the odd upset, killer late goal and Cinderella run, the semifinals feature a magnificent quartet of footballing nations that few could have argued against making a deep run before the tournament began.
Most sports don't change as rapidly as one might hope or expect. This was supposed to be the downfall of Europe, with just six UEFA teams going through to the round of 16. But when things get really tough, here are the Netherlands and Germany in the semifinals, just like in 2010.
A triumvirate of CONCACAF squads—Mexico, United States and Costa Rica—all made major headway in this tournament, but it's South America, not North or Central, with two teams (Brazil and Argentina) in the semis.
Here is the schedule and television info for the semifinals, followed by a preview and prediction for each fixture.
|2014 World Cup Semifinals Schedule, TV Info|
|Date||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Matchup||Prediction|
|July 8||4 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN||Brazil vs. Germany||DEU 2-1 BRA|
|July 9||4 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN||Netherlands vs. Argentina||NED 3-2 ARG|
2014 World Cup Semifinals Preview, Predictions
Brazil vs. Germany
Brazil is of course working on an emergency plan to contend with Germany in the semifinals without its pre-eminent star, Neymar, who is out for the World Cup with a fractured vertebra.
ESPN FC's Fernando Duarte tips Oscar to play Neymar's central role and hopefully replicate his performances:
If anything, though, the way Oscar found space in the Premier League shows that his shyness is complemented with courage. Oscar is certainly no Neymar but his importance for the Seleção is often underrated. Even if Scolari decides instead to beef up midfield by deploying Paulinho, Gustavo and Fernandinho, the Chelsea man would still be required to push forward.
The Chelsea midfielder is indeed a talented player who's played all across the midfield in this tournament. He has an eye for the key pass, but his production hasn't been nearly as strong as Neymar's in this tournament.
|Oscar vs. Neymar, key stats (through first four games)|
|Player||Goals||Shots per game||Pass %||Key passes||Avg. Passes|
Permanently moving Oscar to the middle will force coach Luiz Scolari to consider options such as Willian to start out wide. Any weakness out on the pitch is ripe for Germany coach Joachim Low to exploit.
Germany relies on Thomas Mueller to finish off the majority of its attacks—the Bayern Munich striker has four goals in this tournament. The Germans also have an excellent not-so-secret weapon in Miroslav Klose, who has 15 career World Cup goals to his name.
In the midfield, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos are the creative forces for Die Mannschaft. It will be up to the hardy tandem of Paulinho and Fernandinho to stop them. In fact, the Germans are a little wary of the Selecao's bruising tactics.
"I am all for a healthy hardness but some of Brazil's fouls were over the limit," Schweinsteiger said, via Nesha Starcevic of The Associated Press (h/t ABCNews.com). "Brazilians are not only football magicians, hard tackling is part of their game—we have to be careful and so does the referee."
Indeed, Brazil committed 31 fouls against Colombia. Those hard challenges may disrupt the run of play for Germany, but they are still a threat to score on set pieces. Sami Khedira is excellent in the air, as is center-back Mats Hummels. The latter placed a brilliant header for the deciding score against France. Via ESPN FC:
Brazil should still have plenty of fight left in it. Even without Neymar, it's still one of the most talented squads in the world. However, Germany's defense should be able to stymie the Selecao's defanged attack while Mueller, Ozil and Kroos take care of matters up top.
Prediction: Germany 2-1 Brazil
Netherlands vs. Argentina
Argentina has won five out of five matches in this World Cup, but La Albiceleste didn't impress Belgium coach Marc Wilmots:
An ordinary team can go pretty far with an extraordinary talent like Lionel Messi. The diminutive Barcelona star has been the driving force of Argentina's World Cup run. He pops up for goals, picks up the ball in midfield and unselfishly gets his teammates involved in the attack. He's accounted for four goals and is averaging 3.8 key passes per game in this tournament.
The forwards around him haven't been entirely consistent in this tournament. Gonzalo Higuain notched his first goal of the tournament in the quarterfinals against Belgium, while Sergio Aguero has been absent from the scoresheet.
It doesn't help that Argentina will be without winger Angel Di Maria in this contest.
The pacy winger left the Belgium game early with an apparent thigh injury, and coach Alejandro Sabella merely told The Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com) "I hope that it won't be too (bad) in the case of Angel because Angel is vital to us." Unfortunately, Di Maria has since been ruled out of the semifinal against the Netherlands.
Arjen Robben has spearheaded the Dutch attack in this tournament. His dribbling and pace is a constant source of anguish for defenders. Opta Johan shows how difficult it has been to corral him in this World Cup:
Robin van Persie's performances have dipped since the group stages, so coach Louis van Gaal could go with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in this one. Argentina will also have to contend with the speed of Memphis Depay and the indefatigable Dirk Kuyt.
Van Gaal proved he's a tactical mastermind against Costa Rica by substituting backup keeper Tim Krul in for the penalty kicks. Krul made two crucial saves and guessed the direction of each of Los Ticos' kicks correctly. ESPN FC has the shootout:
The Netherlands will need to be clinical in its attack, as Argentina's center-backs have greatly improved their performances in this tournament.
Ezequiel Garay notched six interceptions and 11 clearances against Belgium. Squawka Football has the roundup of Martin Demichelis' performance from that match:
The back line is much improved, but the Netherlands have been ruthless on the counter-attack in this tournament. The Oranje can soak up pressure and then turn on a dime to blaze past midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.
Look for Robben to get on the scoresheet and get his teammates involved in this one, while Messi makes a futile effort to drag his teammates to the final with a pair of goals.
Netherlands 3-2 Argentina
(Note: all stats courtesy of WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.)