The 2014 edition of the World Cup has proved largely predictable thus far, except of course for results involving England, Spain, Italy and Portugal. At this stage of the competition, however, any of the last four teams may stake a claim for the World Cup crown.
The one thing all these teams have in common is balance – they all seem to have achieved a delicate point of equilibrium between defense and attack and is probably the major reason they are still in it.
With Neymar no longer featuring for the five-times World Champions following a lumbar fracture, the hosts have been left infuriated and rather disconsolate. This is the sort of situation that either spurs a team on to glory in spite of adversity, or dooms the side to a competition exit – think back to France 1998 when Ronaldo was unable to take any further part in Brazil’s campaign.
Brazil face the imperious German army on Tuesday night, themselves three-times winners, while Netherlands square off against Argentina 24 hours later.
Interestingly, Netherlands is the only country remaining in the competition never to have won a World title, but as stated in my quarterfinal preview, this may well be the best opportunity they’ve ever had of claiming glory.
Four years ago the Dutch were left helpless as Spain simply ran riot over the course of ninety minutes in the final. This time around, however, they’ve been more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best in the competition. Having soundly beaten Spain 5-1 in their opening match, they then went on to a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Australia.
Highly-rated Chile suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Dutch, before Mexico fell to a similar fate. The only slight blemish on the Dutch World Cup campaign so far is the 4-3 penalty shoot-out win over Costa Rica at the quarterfinal stage. But still, a win is a win.
The Netherlands’ rise to the semifinals has not been easy, so the fact that they’ve come this far, and that with no ill effects in the way of injuries, speaks volumes of the strength of the team going into their match against Argentina.
On the other hand, Argentina have been in similar form, though the loss of Angel Di Maria to a thigh injury is likely to count against them. Of course, the South Americans are hardly short on talent in the wake Di Maria’s absence, and though Sergio Aguero has been declared fit, they may yet count the cost of not being able to field one of the tournament’s most influential midfielders.
As the Netherlands have a full-strength side to choose from, and if they are able to keep Lionel Messi quiet, I think the Dutch may just have the edge over Argentina to progress to their second successive World Cup final. This will be a close game, and could go either way, but I think the Dutch may just have enough to claim a slim 1-0 victory.
As stated, Brazil will be without one of their most prominent players, but with a line-up featuring Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Fernandinho, Oscar, Willian and Hulk, they scarcely look like an under-strength side. I am in little doubt that Brazil will feel the pinch of not being able to field Neymar, so the Germans would do well to view Brazil as a wounded animal.
Hulk, much like his namesake, is a tower of strength and considering that his aforementioned teammates are all more than capable of providing adequate service, means Germany face a monumental task on Tuesday night.
The Germans themselves meanwhile go into the match at full strength, with all their key players present and accounted for. Philip Lahm is a wonderful team captain, Miroslav Klose is one goal away from becoming the leading World Cup goalscorer, Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world (in my opinion), Thomas Muller has difficulty not scoring, and the Germans boast two exceedingly talented midfielders in Toni Kroos and Julian Draxler.
To be honest I was rather hoping for a classic Brazil-Argentina final, but I very rarely get what I want. I think Brazil will clinch a slender victory over their European counterparts, but Germany is expected to give as good as they get – but don’t take my word for it.