Brazil vs. Germany will see numerous stars battle in an epic 2014 World Cup semifinal, but one man absent from the pitch will define the match.
Neymar's devastating back injury has left the host nation reeling. It couldn't come at a worse time, as Germany has been one of the strongest teams in the tournament thus far and boasts world-class talent at nearly every position.
Such is the reverence for Neymar's gorgeous playing style that the Germans are willing to emphasize their lament regarding his absence rather than any of the advantages it gives.
"We're all sad that Neymar can't play, it's always better when the opponent has all their best players on the pitch," said Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger, via a report from Agence France-Presse (h/t FIFA.com). "It'll bring the (Brazil) team together and they'll want to win the title for him."
Even the most diehard German fan would have to agree that to be the best, you have to beat the best.
And yet, the show must go on without Brazil's talisman. Here is the kickoff time, live stream, match odds and more for this epic semifinal clash.
|Date||Kick-off Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Odds|
|July 8||4 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN||Germany 9-5, Brazil 7-4, Draw 23-10|
(Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of July 7. Draw refers to a tie score after 90 minutes of play.)
Players to Watch
Brazil's flashy forwards might get all the attention, but someone needs to do the dirty work on every squad. For the Selecao, that man is Luiz Gustavo.
The formidable defensive midfielder was suspended for the Colombia match, and his absence was felt as James Rodriguez often had free rein in the middle of the pitch. He's key to disrupting opponents' attacks, averaging 4.8 interceptions and 2.8 tackles per match in this World Cup.
Gustavo will need to play a key role closing down space on Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos, disrupting their ability to start (or finish) Germany's counterattacks.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari may need to move players forward in attack to win this one. If full-backs Marcelo and Dani Alves are in the final third, it is Gustavo's responsibility to provide cover for either one of them. The same goes for situations in which central midfielder Paulinho makes a rampaging run into the box.
Gustavo should be busy in this semifinal match. Brazil will hope that his hard work pays off with a clean sheet.
Watch Germany's Philipp Lahm not just for the superb defensive positioning and calm passing, but for where he lines up. It will be the first indicator of coach Joachim Low's tactics in the match.
Lahm, long considered one of the best right backs in the world, played the World Cup as a defensive midfielder before the France match. This a change similar to the one he made for Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.
However, his move to right back in the quarterfinal was met with praise. The Sun Herald's Craig Foster loved Lahm's performance:
Hardly the classic hoped for, heat hasn't helped. Watching Lahm live is a pleasure, superb positioning, decisions very calm, positive— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) July 4, 2014
Meanwhile, Squawka Football noted his excellent passing in the first half:
That passing acumen is what makes the 30-year-old such a beneficial player in the middle. Lahm is second on the team with a 91.4 percent pass success rate in this tournament. However, keeping him at right back might be best for Germany going forward.
His starting position has a ripple effect on the rest of the team. Jerome Boateng, normally a center back, had been playing on the right flank with Lahm as a midfielder. With Lahm in his natural position, Boateng tucked back into central defense to replace a slow Per Mertesacker.
This lineup could be necessary against Brazil, as the hulking Mertesacker might not be able to contend with the Selecao's speed on the pitch.
This is more like a player you're forced to watch. David Luiz is hard to miss on the pitch with his bountiful, curly mane and his occasional journey forward from his nominal center-back position.
Since you cannot miss him, pay close attention to what he does in the attacking third, likely from a dead-ball situation. He's popped up for two goals in this tournament, one of which was a spectacular free kick against Colombia.
ESPN FC has the highlight:
Germany will have to account for this sensational player in every facet of the game.
Scolari has called upon his star defender to play the role of captain against Germany. At least one of his teammates is highly supportive of this decision.
"The whole world knows what he has to offer on the pitch—and to my mind, he and Thiago are the best central-defensive partnership in the world—but as his team-mates, we also know what a great person he is too," Hulk said, via a report from Sky Sports.
Center backs are often referred to in tandem, but Luiz will be without his usual partner in Thiago Silva, who is suspended from this match for accumulating too many yellow cards.
This, of course, places greater emphasis on Luiz's defensive duties. He's averaged 1.6 tackles, 2 interceptions and 6.8 clearances in five cup appearances. He may need to up those numbers against Germany, as the rarely utilized Henrique or Dante will be joining him on the back line.
Luiz will have to be much more than a leader for Brazil to win. He will need to be a hero.
All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.