To lose in a semi-final is the most heartbreaking thing in football. It's never pleasant to make it to the final and suffer defeat, but there's consolation in the fact that you played in a World Cup final.
Drop out in the last four, though, and the prospect of all of that is pulled from underneath you. Nobody remembers a semi-finalist.
That’s the fate that will await two of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands as the 2014 World Cup rolls on toward the semi-final stage. Each team will be obsessed with the prospect of glory at this juncture, which will surely make for two exciting semi-final matches.
Here's a look at the very latest team news ahead of these two matches, as well as key stats and predictions as to which teams are best placed to avoid the heartache of a semi-final defeat.
Brazil vs. Germany
The host nation face the unenviable task of getting the better of Joachim Low’s cohesive Germany team if they’re to make it to the final on home soil—and they’ll have to do it without their two most important players.
After dragging this Brazil team to the semi-finals with some superb displays, Neymar will miss the rest of the tournament after suffering a back injury. But just as significantly for the semi-final, the Selecao will also be without their skipper Thiago Silva. The defender was magnificent in the quarter-final win over Colombia and will be a major loss for Luiz Felipe Scolari, as WhoScored.com noted:
Tasked with filling his boots will be Bayern Munich defender Dante, a player who is used to coming up against a lot of these German players either in the Bundesliga or in training with the Bavarian outfit. As such, Silva himself thinks that Dante's influence could be vital in this one, per BrazilStats:
Germany will hope to take advantage of a team that will be without their main source of leadership and ingenuity. Die Mannschaft have been far from formidable in this tournament but have impressed with their relentless pressing and ability to seize the initiative in the middle of the park.
They’ve also been very dangerous from set pieces, with the dead-ball skills of Toni Kroos and the aerial prowess of Mats Hummels combining well throughout the tournament, as noted here by Squawka:
Low is faced with something of a selection dilemma ahead of this one. Against France, he went with 36-year-old Miroslav Klose in attack, but he was largely ineffective. So it remains to be seen whether or not he'll go with the veteran forward once again or whether he'll plump for the industry and intelligence of Thomas Muller to lead the line.
Expect Germany to play the role of party spoilers in this one. Low’s team is bristling with players who know how to get through big games, and they’ll capitalise on a Brazil team that looks to be without any real leadership and will struggle to find a cutting edge in advanced areas.
Prediction: Brazil 0-1 Germany
Netherlands vs. Argentina
The Dutch made it through to this semi-final after a dramatic victory on penalties against surprise package Costa Rica in the quarters. Prior to that victory, they had a torrid record in penalty shootouts, as noted here by OptaJean:
After progressing in such an enthralling manner, the Dutch will feel as though they have accrued some vital momentum going into the semi-final with Argentina. Louis van Gaal has rotated his squad superbly throughout this World Cup, so it’s wholly unpredictable what team he will field against the Albiceleste.
Nonetheless, The Telegraph’s Henry Winter has been very impressed by the strategies employed by the Dutch manager in this tournament so far:
In Arjen Robben, the Netherlands have arguably the most exhilarating player of the 2014 tournament. His running with the ball and ability to make critical decisions is a joy to watch; he'll be the man the Oranje faithful will be looking at to take the game to Argentina.
It’ll certainly be intriguing to see how the Bayern Munich man fares against Argentina's Lionel Messi in the semi-final; here’s a full statistical comparison between the two courtesy of Bleacher Report UK:
Messi is a player who is revelling in the responsibility of being Argentina’s talisman, perhaps best illustrated by his ability to not only create chances for his teammates but to capitalise on chances he can conjure through his own brilliance, as noted here by Opta (h/t messileftfoot):
Gonzalo Higuain also managed to notch a much-needed goal in the quarters, which should give him a shot of confidence ahead of the semi-final clash. It was a goal long overdue, it has to be said, per OptaJoe:
Argentina have received a mixed bag of news ahead of the clash regarding the fitness of key players. Angel Di Maria is set to miss the match, but the return of Sergio Aguero will be a major boost to manager to Alejandro Sabella. The news was reported here by BBC Sport:
Such is the brilliance of Messi that we should expect him to drag Argentina over the line once again. Van Gaal will try to contain the diminutive genius, but Messi has shown time and time again in this tournament that he is simply too talented to pin down. He’ll give Argentina the edge in what promises to be a gripping semi-final.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-3 Argentina