The last four – How will the tournament unfold?
The pressure is on for the remaining teams in the World Cup. Which two semi-finalists will battle through to the final for the chance to have their name etched on the famous trophy? We survey the possibilities.
Brazil v Germany
Tuesday 8th August
Kick off – 9pm
Netherlands v Argentina
Wednesday 9th August
Kick off – 9pm
The contrasting fortunes of Barcelona’s two superstar forwards has shaken to the core the expectations of many pundits about which nation will win the World Cup.
Neymar, Brazil’s ‘Catalan’ is out injured for the rest of the tournament with a back injury while Argentina’s Lionel Messi of continues to shine.
Among Argentina’s ranks others are starting to step out of his shadow to produce match-winning performances in their own right – Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria spring to mind in recent games.
Brazil too have found alternative match-winners in the guise of centre-backs Thiago Silva and David Luiz. But worryingly unlike their fiercest rivals, Brazil’s forward line remains distinctly lacking in goals – Fred, Oscar and Hulk are all regular starters, but have yet to assert their authority on games with any real consistency.
But for all the talk of which of the two South Americans is more likely hoist the trophy let us not overlook the credentials of the Europeans semi-final contingent.
The Netherlands and Germany are each of fine footballing stock. Louis van Gaal’s Holland come into their game against Argentina as slight underdogs having been required to grind out a result on penalties over Costa Rica in contrast to Argentina who were more clinical in victory against a talented Belgium.
This promises to be a fascinating tactical battle and one which could very well come down to the individual brilliance of the star players of both teams such as Messi and Arjen Robben. It is hard to imagine the game being too open unless there is an early goal.
As for Germany, they face Brazil undoubtedly buoyed by the news that their opponent’s main goal threat is nullified. A Neymar-less Brazil leaves the two sides fairly balanced and perhaps Germany would be favourites if this game were being played at a neutral venue.
But its not – Brazil have not lost competitively on home soil for more than half a century and they will undoubtedly be motivated in front of their home fans. The question is – do they possess the belief that they can create and score without Neymar?
The Germans appear to be improving in their form and they will relish this challenge. The conditions are not expected to be too intense which levels the playing field somewhat. Ball retention will be the key for Germany as they may struggle to match the energy of the Brazil. In summary:
Brazil v Germany
This match is likely to be tight and low scoring. If either team is able to score within the 90 minutes, then it will force the other to become more open with a possible 2-1 outcome. If it remains tight, then 0-0 after extra time is a distinct possibility and penalty heartbreak for one of these two combatants.
Holland v Argentina
Master-tactician Van Gaal is likely to switch back to 5-3-2 and play predominantly on the counter attack but with Di Maria ruled out if Argentina’s revamped frontline can click then the Dutch tactic might well play into their hands.
Argentina 2-0 in 90 minutes
Final and third/fourth play-off
Obviously there are lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ about which teams will make the final. But with so much at stake, historically finals have tended to be cagey affairs. Among the four possible protagonists, there is nothing to suggest that this would not be a similarly tight low scoring affair.
A word about the third-place play-off – a game that is often billed as a match that no team wants to play. These matches tend to be all-round more open affairs and it is worth noting that over the past 32 years, the average number of goals that have been generated is well over four per game and matches are often settled by a one-goal margin. So make sure you are considering high scores and ‘Any Other’ selections on your pools.