Key Battles That Will Shape Brazil's Clash with Germany
In the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, Brazil will need strong performances from all of their players if they are to overcome Germany in Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final.
Brazil attracted criticism for the physicality they displayed in their quarter-final victory over Colombia, but that is unlikely to deter them from adopting a similar approach against a possession-based Germany side in Belo Horizonte.
Here are the key battles that will shape Brazil’s World Cup clash with Germany.
Thomas Mueller vs. Dante
Thomas Mueller has been Germany’s most impressive forward in their run to the semi-finals, scoring four goals and providing two assists.
Whether deployed as a central striker with a license to roam or as the right-sided of two attacking midfielders, his intelligent movement and keen eye for goal are a regular source of worry for opposition defenders.
The man tasked with tracking him on Tuesday is likely to be his Bayern Munich teammate, Dante. With Thiago Silva suspended, Dante is expected to line up alongside David Luiz in the heart of the Brazilian defence.
Dante is a strong and athletic defender who excels in one-on-one tussles and is also adept at reading play and stepping forward to intercept. His ideal opponent is a fixed central striker—a description that certainly cannot be applied to Mueller.
Dante sometimes struggles against teams with varied final-third movement—such as in Bayern’s victory over Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final—and he will have to be alert and aware for the full 90 minutes if he hopes to prevent his club colleague from getting the better of him on Tuesday.
Oscar vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger/Philip Lahm
Oscar began the World Cup with a strong performance in Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia, but he has failed to make a significant contribution to their attacking play in subsequent matches.
The Chelsea man was one of Brazil’s most impressive players during their Confederations Cup triumph last year. He excelled as the central attacking midfielder, but he has been shunted out to the right flank during the World Cup to allow Neymar to play in the centre.
With Neymar injured, Oscar could get a chance to prove his worth in his favoured position on Tuesday
Philipp Lahm played at the base of the midfield in Germany’s first four matches of the tournament before reverting to right-back against France in the quarter-finals. Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped into the defensive-midfield role for that match and could do so again against Brazil.
It is a role of paramount importance in a Germany side for whom possession acts as a means of both control and attack. Per WhoScored.com, only Spain and Argentina have recorded a greater average share of possession than Germany during the World Cup to date.
Oscar has shown himself capable of doing competent spoiling jobs on deep-lying playmakers in the past and is likely to be given a similar brief on Tuesday.
He must, however, avoid getting bogged down in his defensive duties and ensure that he provides an attacking outlet. If not, Brazil will be decidedly lacking in inspiration.
Willian/Bernard vs. Benedikt Hoewedes
Per FIFA.com, Willian and Bernard are the two players vying for Neymar’s place in the Brazil starting XI on Tuesday.
With Oscar likely to revert to a central role, one or the other is likely to line up on the right flank, where they will come into direct contact with the Germany left-back Benedikt Hoewedes.
Hoewedes is primarily a centre-back at club level with Schalke and has struggled at times during the World Cup—particularly against speedy and direct opponents.
The left-footed Hulk would have been an ideal opponent for the right-footed Hoewedes, who would have spent the majority of the match defending on his stronger foot. That will not be the case against Willian or Bernard, both of whom are tricky, fleet-footed dribblers who will happily go past him on the outside.
The 26-year-old is likely to endure a difficult match; the quality of Brazil’s end product will decide whether his deficiencies prove fatal to Germany’s chances.