After dozens of matches, hundreds of goals and several shocks, we’re now at the business end of World Cup 2014. Just four teams remain and the semi-finals have served up two mouth-watering encounters.
Brazil, Germany and Argentina have all achieved World Cup glory in the past, while the only team left to never have won the competition—the Netherlands—have been losing finalists on three separate occasions.
With Spain’s era of dominance well and truly over, this edition of the competition presents the opportunity for one country to assert themselves as the team to beat in international football.
The usual signs of wear and tear are beginning to show, with the energy-sapping heat of Brazil as well as injuries and suspensions now playing a considerable role in proceedings. Here are our predictions for the outcomes of the semi-finals.
Brazil vs. Germany
An immensely tough game to call, the first semi-final pits the hosts and five-time winners Brazil with three-time champions Germany. Many predicted this matchup after both teams won their respective groups, but at that stage, the Europeans would have arguably been favourites.
Die Mannschaft began their campaign with a scintillating 4-0 victory over Portugal and cruised through the rest of their group games. However, there was a sense they took their foot off the gas just a bit too much, as they required a last-minute goal to overcome a plucky Algeria side.
Their 1-0 victory over France in the quarter-finals will have settled the nerves somewhat, although in truth the win had more to do with Joachim Low’s tactics rendering the French attack completely impotent than a truly outstanding performance.
In contrast, Brazil appear to be peaking at just the right time. Their group games were far from impressive, with their first game a highly controversial victory over Croatia. They then needed penalties to overcome a highly-rated Chile side.
However, in their quarter-final game against a strong Colombia side, the Selecao seemed to find another gear. While another referee would not have been so lenient in dealing with tactical fouling—something both sides were repeatedly guilty of—Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side successfully nullified James Rodriguez and dominated the midfield.
With the hosts peaking at just the right moment, it would be easy to back them against a recently lackadaisical German side. However, the victory over Colombia came at a grave cost, with Neymar ruled out for the remainder of the tournament and captain Thiago Silva suspended.
Without Neymar, who has contributed 40% of the team’s goals, and Silva, who scored the opener against Colombia and has been the calming, reliable yin to David Luiz’s explosive-yet-unpredictable yang, Brazil are missing their two best players.
The German defence has been stoic, and it’s tough to see a makeshift Brazil attack breaking through. Add to that the fact that Germany are set up to counter-attack, which will serve them well against the bigger sides as it did against Portugal, and this could well be the hosts’ farewell.
Netherlands vs. Argentina
The outcome of the second semi-final may well hinge on which Dutch side turns up. Their group stage matches against Spain and Chile—won 5-1 and 2-0, respectively—were fantastic performances and underlined their credentials as potential champions.
However, the Dutch have looked less than convincing elsewhere. They required two very late goals to overcome Mexico in the round of 16 and needed goalkeeping heroics from Tim Krul to overcome Costa Rica on penalties after somehow failing to score in 120 minutes.
Louis van Gaal’s decision to substitute first-choice keeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul for the penalty shootout has been hailed as a piece of tactical genius, but less astute was the future Manchester United manager’s decision to tinker with his winning formula. The Dutch had been playing an attacking 5-3-2 formation, with two wing-backs, three central defenders, three central midfielders and two strikers—most often Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie—which allowed the strikers the freedom to maraud forward without the burden of defensive duties to fulfill.
Against Costa Rica, van Gaal opted to move Memphis Depay forward to create a three-pronged attack, which seemed to rob the Dutch of some of their attacking impetus. The Dutchman may well switch back to his tried and tested system for this game.
Argentina—much like their neighbours and bitter rivals Brazil—have failed to truly play to their potential and yet have won every game, albeit all by a one goal margin. Their best performance was the most recent one, a surprisingly routine victory over a talented Belgian side.
Coach Alejandro Sabella called the victory his side’s “best game” and highlighted the importance of his captain Lionel Messi to the team, per Goal.com. With Neymar now out of the tournament and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal eliminated, Messi is inarguably the biggest talent remaining in the competition, and his performance against Belgium was, like his team's, his best showing so far.
The Dutch defense has been far from watertight so far, having conceded twice against a relatively poor Australia side. This will come as a relief to La Albiceleste, who despite boasting the likes of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel di Maria—who has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament—have struggled in front of goal.
In contrast, aside from their final group game against Nigeria, the Argentine rearguard has looked to be one of the team’s main strengths. With Javier Mascherano shielding the defence, they’ve yet to concede in the knockout rounds.
The Dutch will need to have got all their profligacy out of their system against Costa Rica, but even if van Persie and Robben are on form, Messi and co. are hitting their stride at the perfect time.