The 2014 World Cup has been one of the more exciting tournaments in recent memory. We had a number of players make a statement of their individual talent — think James Rodriguez and Joel Campbell — and a few teams go above and beyond expectations, like Costa Rica and Algeria.
Unfortunately, there are only four teams left, and that means the tournament is almost over. The match-ups in the semifinals are a signal that the upsets and surprises are over. Germany will go up against Brazil in the first game, and Argentina will try to stop the somewhat unexpected run of the Netherlands in the other semifinal. Let’s break down how each team got here and predict which two countries will make it to the final.
Brazil vs. Germany
Neither team has been too impressive in getting to the semifinals, but the world of sport is a results-based business. Brazil has probably been the least impressive in getting to this point. Brazil beat Chile on penalties after extra time and took advantage of two big-time set piece miscues against Colombia in a narrow 2-1 win. None of Brazil’s goals in the knockout phase have come from open play.
The goals scored by Brazil in the knockout phase were a result of poor marking by Chile on a corner kick (which still looks like an own goal to some), lazy ball-watching by Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez on a corner kick, and poor goalkeeping by David Ospina on David Luiz’s free kick. This is not to take anything away from Luiz’s shot, but Ospina set up the wall to cover the low shot to his left and then took a step in the opposite direction when the ball was clearly not going to his right. That should not happen in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Germany opened the tournament with a 4-0 statement win over Portugal. After that match, the team looked like a classic German squad that finds a way to win, no matter what. All of the country’s matches have either been draws or one-goal victories. The athleticism and speed of Algeria gave Germany all kinds of problems. But it was a “bend, not break” type of performance, as the Germans advanced with a 2-1 extra-time victory. In the quarterfinals, the French did not put up that much of a fight, and the Germans advanced with a 1-0 win.
Brazil will be missing its two most important players in Thiago Silva and Neymar. Germany will stay extremely organized on its set piece defending and not make the same mistakes that the Chileans and Colombians did. Brazil playing in its home country will give the players a lift, but the absence of Neymar and Silva will be too much.
Our prediction: A 2-0 win for Germany.
Argentina vs. the Netherlands
The most impressive thing about this Argentina team is its defense. This was previously viewed as a weak point, along with goalkeeping, and it has proved the critics wrong. Ezequiel Garay has been especially impressive on the backline. The quality chances that Iran and Nigeria created against Argentina looked worrisome, but the defense tightened down, and Argentina beat Switzerland and Belgium in narrow 1-0 victories.
Argentina at times didn’t look like the squad could grind out a close 1-0 win, but this is just another surprise in a tournament full of them. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero has looked fairly sharp for a player that barely saw the field for his club team, AS Monaco. Midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia were important in shutting down the Belgian attack, and both will have similar roles in the semifinals.
If there was a surprise in this semifinal, one could make an argument for the Netherlands. There was around a 50/50 split in analysts having the Netherlands even getting out of a group with Spain and Chile. After an emphatic 5-1 win over Spain, the Netherlands became a favorite to get out of the group and possibly make a deep run.
The Netherlands did indeed get out of group play and had an extremely controversial 2-1 win in the Round of 16 against Mexico. Costa Rica made life tough for the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, with the Ticos’ disciplined defense causing the Dutch to be called offsides many times. The Dutch were taken all the way to penalties but ultimately prevailed against a tired Costa Rica, who went all the way to penalties in the Round of 16, as well.
This matchup is close. Can Gonzalo Higuain have another match as good as he did against Belgium? Can Mascherano and Biglia help the Argentine defense keep Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie at bay? Can Ron Vlaar limit the chances created by Lionel Messi? How will Argentina cope without the width and precise crossing of Angel di Maria?
The loss of di Maria will be evident, and Louis van Gaal will need to figure out a plan so that the Dutch attack is not cancelled out by the Argentine midfield.
Our prediction: Look for the Netherlands to advance with an extremely tight 2-1 win.