Only four of the 64 matches at the 2014 World Cup are left, but don't freak out—the ones remaining should be the best yet.
Despite surprises being the norm in the group stage, things worked out quite nicely in the semifinal round as it pegs four national powerhouses. The host country Brazil face another World Cup favorite in Germany, while the Netherlands and Argentina do battle for the other final spot.
Every team left standing is guaranteed two more matches with the third-place decider upcoming, but there's no doubting that each of the four believe their title hopes are very much alive.
Look below for schedule information, a full preview and predictions for the semifinal clashes.
|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
It may have been the World Cup of the unpredictable before the knockout stage, but the expected teams found themselves in Tuesday's semifinal—Brazil and Germany.
Neither side took a glamorous route to get here. Brazil struggled through penalty kicks in the knockout stage, and Germany were even taken into extra time by Algeria.
But after battling through tough opposition, each made it to Tuesday's semifinal. However, not both enter completely healthy.
Brazil saw their worst nightmare come true in their quarterfinal win over Colombia, when Neymar took a knee to the back and fractured his vertebra. Brazil confirmed the news Friday, per FIFA World Cup:
It's been years since the Brazilian side wasn't heavily reliant on Neymar. He's been the talisman of the attack seemingly ever since the national team transitioned after 2010. It will take a by-committee approach to replace him, as any individual inserted into his place won't be able to assume close to similar responsibilities.
But as if it couldn't get any worse for Brazil, substitute winger Willian—one of the likeliest replacements for Neymar in the starting 11—went down with an injury in training:
To make matters worse, Brazil's defense will also need a replacement as captain Thiago Silva will have to sit out from an accumulation of yellow cards.
In retrospect, even a healthy Brazil squad in their home stadium in the World Cup would be facing a tall task with the Germans coming in. Joachim Low's men have validated their World Cup favorite status by steamrolling through opposition, and even in their pedestrian performances, they're still unbeatable.
With the impossible task of playing without arguably their two most important players and facing Germany, beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri notes that at least Brazil can go out with their heads high:
At least, if Brazil won't win World Cup,now they are justified by not having Neymar and Thiago Silva.A liberation from being called 'losers'— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 6, 2014
It will take an early goal and masterful defense for the remainder of the match for Brazil to keep their hopes alive for a sixth World Cup title and one on home soil. Without Neymar or Silva in the fold, that will prove easier said than done.
Prediction: Germany 1, Brazil 0
Netherlands vs. Argentina
The Netherlands have a sour taste in their mouths from four years ago, and Argentina have Lionel Messi trying to will his country to a legacy-defining World Cup title on home-continent soil.
The stakes in this semifinal couldn't get much higher.
It's a dream-like matchup in the final four that looked improbable at times. The Netherlands had to mount a crazy comeback to top Mexico in the round of 16, before Costa Rica took them to the brink in penalty kicks in their quarterfinal.
Messi and company haven't dealt with an extra-time affair or a late comeback, but 1-0 victories over Switzerland and Belgium weren't always convincing. The criticism of little help around Messi hasn't quelled, and an impenetrable defense has kept the Argentinians alive.
One of Messi's biggest helps could be out for Wednesday's clash. Winger Angel Di Maria came up gimpy in the 29th minute against Belgium, was substituted off and, per The Associated Press' Karl Ritter via ABC News, his chances of playing are very much in doubt:
'He's a key player in this project,' Higuain said of Di Maria. 'We hope that he will be ready as soon as possible because we know what he does for the team.'
Coach Alejandro Sabella called Di Maria "vital" to Argentina, which is already missing striker Sergio Aguero due to injury.
Di Maria's absence would further trouble an attack that already is without injured striker Sergio Aguero. Messi still has Gonzalo Higuain—the lone goalscorer from the Belgium win—alongside him in the attack, but no other in-form players.
The Dutch haven't struggled with form as much as simply finishing goals as of late. Ever since their late comeback over Mexico, their attack has been on point, but they couldn't score any of their 20 shots (eight on goal) in 120 minutes against Costa Rica.
Whether it has been Spain, Chile, Mexico or Costa Rica, the Dutch haven't had too much trouble carving up the opposition with Arjen Robben's speed and so many potent attackers. Argentina may be the best defense they face yet, but it won't be a match for Oranje.
The Netherlands' defense is underrated and doesn't let up many opportunities. They'll have Messi marked, and it will take a heroic effort from a teammate to keep Argentina level after the Dutch strike first.
At that point, it will come down to who can win at the penalty spot, and the Dutch certainly have more quality finishers.
Prediction: Netherlands 1, Argentina 1 (5-3 pen.)