World Cup 2014: Best XI of Semi-Finals with Thomas Mueller, Kroos, Mascherano
The 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-finals brought very contrasting matches, with Brazil vs. Germany hosting a plethora of goals, impressive attacking and awful defending—on one side at least—and Netherlands vs. Argentina very few chances, rigid team shapes and a penalty shootout.
While Germany and Argentina will fight out the final, the two losers will play for third place in Saturday's play-off.
Here are all the finest performers from the two midweek semi-finals, unsurprisingly featuring a number of German talents—and no Brazilians, the only nation of the quartet not to feature.
GK: Manuel Neuer, GER
Manuel Neuer might have been nothing more than an onlooker for the first 45 minutes or so, but even with his team five (then six and seven) goals to the good he was determined to play his part.
The keeper made a number of impressive stops in the second half to keep Brazil at bay, continually organised his defence and claimed the ball with authority.
He was finally beaten near the end of 90 minutes and was visibly annoyed, but was still comfortably the standout keeper of the semis.
RB: Philipp Lahm, GER
With all their attacking flair it's easy to overlook the back line of Germany, but Philipp Lahm was outstanding once more at both ends of the field.
While Brazil failed to cope with the movement of the forwards, Lahm drifted into space in the final third, either wide or in the right channel, to pick up the ball with room to spare and turn to play in team-mates. He created a number of chances in this fashion and picked up two assists.
At the back he remained solid as ever, making a handful of big tackles and using the ball intelligently to start attacks.
DC: Ron Vlaar, NED
Dutch centre-back Ron Vlaar might have missed his penalty kick, but that shouldn't detract from what was an outstanding 120-minute performance beforehand.
In the middle of the back three, he won the ball aerially and on the ground, stepped out of defence to close down Lionel Messi in space and make challenges in the defensive midfield zone when required, covered behind his wider centre-backs and generally kept his team in shape.
A very strong performance which kept Gonzalo Higuain and Co. completely quiet.
DC: Martin Demichelis, ARG
At the other end of the pitch, Martin Demichelis did the same for Argentina.
He swept up behind Ezequiel Garay when the first ball wasn't won, he made a number of big tackles himself and was always on hand to clear any impending danger from around the edge of the penalty area.
With no runners in behind, Demichelis was rarely turned or given problems with the Dutch forwards dribbling past him and was a big factor in another Argentine clean sheet.
LB: Dirk Kuyt, NED
Dirk Kuyt operated at wing-back for Netherlands, first half on the right and thereafter on the left. His work-rate and stamina remain as impressive as ever, as shown by his willingness and ability to keep making runs forward late into extra time, but his primary tactical role was to keep shape and tuck in defensively to outnumber Argentina's attackers.
Kuyt made clearances and won battles around the edge of his own area but also covered behind his defence a number of times to bring the ball clear.
He wasn't much of a threat in attack as Netherlands opted for a safety-first approach, refusing to commit numbers forward, but linked play in midfield nicely.
RM: Thomas Mueller, GER
Germany's destruction of Brazil started with Thomas Mueller's goal, but the wide forward had so much more impact than merely scoring.
His goal was well-taken, but it was his link-up play, movement and ability to quickly find team-mates running into the penalty area which marked him out as one of the best on the field.
Mueller's run in off the right channel and subsequent lay-off for Miroslav Klose's goal was perfectly timed, weighted and executed and was the catalyst and the blueprint for the destruction which was to follow.
CM: Javier Mascherano, ARG
Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano put in a faultless performance against the Dutch, defending his midfield territory with aggression, consistency and determination.
He was exceptional in possession, keeping things simple often but also looking to play more direct at times when the opportunity arose, skipping out the midfield line to try to raise the tempo of the game and catch the Dutch unaware.
Despite taking a heavy knock to the head, Mascherano put in the best defensive performance of the night, making a number of tackles, including a great late block on Arjen Robben.
CM: Sami Khedira, GER
In the first semi-final, Sami Khedira's play from central midfield was absolutely key to Germany overcoming Brazil.
Where his rivals were static, lazy and failed to track runners, he was dynamic, forceful and quick to move into the final third of the pitch, with and without the ball. Overloading Brazil in dangerous areas of the pitch in this way, he was involved in a number of Germany's best moves as they scythed through the back line at will.
Khedira scored once and claimed one assist, a testament to his attacking involvement, while he also used the ball well and worked hard defensively in the second half.
LM: Enzo Perez, ARG
Argentina's midfield showed two changes from what could be considered their usual lineup, with Enzo Perez and Lucas Biglia in for Angel Di Maria and Fernando Gago.
Perez ensured that the absence of Di Maria's energy, willingness to get forward and ability to beat players on the ball was not missed, with his trickery and bursts of acceleration a feature of some of Argentina's best play for the first hour.
He was arguably their most effective player during that time but was subbed just before extra time began.
AM: Toni Kroos, GER
While Mueller made his runs and Khedira broke forward, Toni Kroos allowed everything to revolve around him and simply knitted it all together in fabulous, composed style. At times he would be the one to move beyond the defence while other occasions he simply stood stock-still and found space by letting Brazil's defenders run away from him; either way, time on the ball was his far too often and the ensuing carnage was predictable.
Two very well-taken goals were just reward from an excellent performance and, had Germany opted to continue taking the game to the host nation, he likely could have completed a hat-trick or claimed the same number of assists.
As per John Drayton of Daily Mail, Germany defender Mats Hummels says the side opted not to do just that:
We just made it clear that we had to stay focused and not try to humiliate them. We said we had to stay serious and concentrate at half-time. That’s something you don’t have to show on the pitch if you are playing. You have to show the opponent respect and it was very important that we did this and didn’t try to show some magic or something like this. It was important we played our game for 90 minutes.
FW: Miroslav Klose, GER
Almost by default, Miroslav Klose was the one notable forward performer of the semi-finals.
Fred was a nonentity, Robin van Persie anonymous, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi poor throughout. Only Arjen Robben could seriously claim to have impressed at all, but starved of service and attacking influence, his output was marginal and sporadic.
Klose netted the second goal to really open the floodgates for Germany against Brazil, in so doing setting a new World Cup record for the most goals at the finals.
His movement off the ball and power to occupy defenders gave Brazil problems and created space for his team-mates.