We're down to the 2014 World Cup semi-finals, and once again European and South American teams have made it to the final four. This year's tournament was one of upsets and underdogs, but in the end, four traditional heavyweights of world football have found their way to the final stages.
Hosts Brazil are hurting going into their fixture against Germany, losing their top forward Neymar and top defender Thiago Silva ahead of the semi-final. Argentina and the Netherlands are the other two teams left standing, and they'll face off on Wednesday.
Here's the updated World Cup bracket for the semi-finals:
All four teams feature a number of world-class players and are capable of winning this year's World Cup, and as expected, that parity is reflected in the game lines going into the semi-finals:
Brazil v Germany
It's a rematch of the 2002 final: Hosts Brazil will take on the powerful Germans in their most challenging fixture yet. Both teams comfortably progressed from the group stages and recorded close but convincing wins in the round of 16 and the quarter-finals.
In the end, everyone expected these two teams to face each other at this stage the moment the schedules were released. Via The Independent's Miguel Delaney, that includes German midfielder Andre Schurrle, who told reporters his Brazilian teammates at Chelsea had talked about it a lot:
"You heard it from them two months before the World Cup. Everybody was talking about this."
Die Mannschaft looked very calm and composed in their 1-0 win over France, easily defending the lead during the second half. Germany's golden generation seems to have matured a lot since their semi-final loss against Italy during Euro 2012, and they'll have a chance to prove they're ready for silverware when they take on Brazil.
The hosts have been favourites for the title since the start of the tournament, and while they haven't looked dominant so far, the Selecao haven't really been tested either.
Colombia gave them a late scare in the quarter-finals, but the hosts' experience in dealing with pressure showed itself when it needed to. Without Neymar and the suspended Silva, that pressure will only increase.
That doesn't mean the Selecao don't have a chance against Germany, however, despite what some pundits are already suggesting. BeIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri thinks the absence of both players would excuse the team:
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
Great teams find ways to overcome adversity. Germany did it when they lost Marco Reus to injury just before the start of the World Cup, and Brazil will have to do it as well. If they can use the emotion of losing the beloved Neymar as fuel for this match, the Selecao have every chance of beating Die Mannschaft.
Netherlands v Argentina
The Netherlands have already proven themselves capable of overcoming adversity, losing their two best central midfielders Kevin Strootman and Nigel de Jong to injury. The Dutch aren't a perfect team, but through solid organisation, they've found a way to fend off any challenge they've faced so far.
Louis van Gaal's tactics have been spot-on throughout the tournament, and he will now be tasked with doing what no one has been able to do yet—stop Lionel Messi.
The Argentina forward was spectacular defensively against Belgium and used his mobility to pull the Red Devil midfielders out of position during their round-of-16 clash, and as a result, Belgium were unable to ever find their groove.
Messi doesn't have to score to be great, and if Gonzalo Higuain's excellent performance against Belgium was a sign that he's finally decided to live up to his potential, the Albiceleste attack could be too much to handle for anyone.
Argentina are the favourites going into this tie, but the Netherlands have history on their side, via OptaJohan:
1 - The Netherlands have lost only one of their previous eight meetings with Argentina (W4 D3). Ambition.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 6, 2014
The Albiceleste's defence put together their finest showing yet against Belgium, but the Red Devils looked slow and sluggish on the ball. In contrast, the Dutch have been excellent on the counter throughout the tournament, and they'll have no intention of opening up their formation against Argentina.
Defending the duo of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie is no easy task, and while the latter has never scored a World Cup goal beyond the group stages, the former is in the form of his life.
This will be a real clash of styles, and it will likely take some more of Messi's brilliance to crack open this Dutch defence.