World Cup 2014 Predictions: Key X-Factors for Semi-Final Fixtures

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, walks next to teammate Sergio Aguero during a training session in Vespasiano, near Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Argentina will play in group F of the Brazil 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Despite all the shocks and surprises along the way, the 2014 World Cup semi-finals are made up of four teams who were looked upon from the tournament's beginning favourites to make it this far.

The Netherlands have perhaps overcome the most odds over their journey, but alongside hosts Brazil, Germany and Argentina, only a quartet of powerhouses remain.

And with those much-revered nations come squads comprised of world-class players, some of whom stand to play more essential roles than their teammates in the penultimate round of the competition.

Fernandinho, Brazil

Andre Penner/Associated Press

The Manchester City man didn't begin this summer's tournament at the forefront of Luiz Felipe Scolari's selection list, but Fernandinho has firmly played his way into the starting XI at the expense of Paulinho.

His no-nonsense approach against Colombia was contentious to say the least and skirted the edge of brutality for periods, as The Sunday Times' Duncan Castles and Martyn Ziegler of the Press Association attest:

However, "effective" might be another term associated with the Brazilian's style of play, and the Selecao won't care just how the likes of Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger are neutralised, just as long as they are.

Manuel Neuer, Germany

His cavalier attitude against Algeria and France has drawn a worldwide mix of plaudits, fascination and scrutiny, but will Manuel Neuer still play the same high line against Brazil after seeing it work to good effect in those outings?

In Die Mannschaft's quarter-final tie against Les Bleus, the Bayern Munich stopper was slightly more withdrawn, perhaps more conscious of being caught out by superior attacking prospects.

Squawka illustrates that Neuer hasn't been as busy as others in the competition thus far, either:

The Germany No. 1 can be a hot-and-cold figure at times but has looked in fine form thus far. Having said that, Brazil's attack is a mighty one even without the services of an injured Neymar and is capable of luring him over the edge.

Sergio Aguero, Argentina

Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Lionel Messi's match-saving antics would argue otherwise, but there is room for debate that Sergio Aguero may yet be the most important offensive chess piece in Alejandro Sabella's arsenal on Wednesday.

Angel Di Maria's absence against the Netherlands will be a tough pill to swallow for Argentina, but as BBC Sport state, Aguero could well make his return to the starting XI, softening that particular blow in a very helpful manner:

A lack of match fitness will undoubtedly play its part in the Manchester City forward's performance, but having his talents back among the players will be a boost for the squad, in addition to the considerable threat he brings on the ball himself.

Another factor for Argentina is that Aguero's return will take some of the burden from Messi in notching La Albiceleste ahead. Whether that's for better or worse is for Sabella to decide.