And then there were four. And arguably the best four in the competition: Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands, although Colombia and Chile could argue for their inclusion in the top tier.
The first match features five-time champions and hosts Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) against three-time champions Germany (1954, 1974, 1990). They’ve only met in the World Cup once, in 2002, when Brazil beat Germany 2-0 in the final on the strength of two Ronaldo goals. Germany have been one of the strongest sides in the world for years and are currently ranked second by FIFA; Brazil are ranked third, but they’ll carry onto the field with them the hopes, dreams, and energy of the world’s greatest soccer nation.
What’s At Stake
Germany are in their record fourth straight semifinal, but have only reached the final once in their previous three trips (Japan & South Korea 2002, when they lost to Brazil in the final).
Brazil have more to lose in this tournament than any other side ever has. They’re always expected to win the World Cup, but this year they are additionally charged with the responsibility of erasing the memory of the maracanazo, the devastating 1950 loss to Uruguay in the only other World Cup held in Brazil. The absence of Neymar, who broke his back in the last match against Colombia, won’t do anything to temper the expectations of Brazil’s dedicated fans.
Germany’s Miroslav Klöse is also playing for a bit of personal history. He’s currently tied at 15 with Brazil’s Ronaldo for most World Cup goals. One more and he’s the all-time leading scorer in the sport’s biggest competition.
The Brazilians have certainly played with a distinctive style, but it’s not the one we associate with the great Brazilian teams of 1970, 1982, or 2002. In fact, it’s probably best summed up by the fact that Oscar – the young, visionary Chelsea star whose praises I was singing before the Cup – has now made the most tackles of anyone in the tournament. That’s hard to reconcile with the Brazil of 1970, when a manager was sacked before the World Cup for suggesting that Pele wasn’t doing enough defensive work to earn his spot. This team depends on grit, strong tackling, and set-piece goals from the centerbacks. Thiago Silva (pictured above, right) is suspended today, so the other centerback, David Luiz (pictured above, left) will take over the captain’s armband.
Though the attitude has changed, the shape of this Brazilian team is remarkably similar to that of the famous 1970 squad. Compare Brazil last week against Colombia (left, in yellow) and Brazil in the 1970 final against Italy (right, in white).
Coach Felipe Scolari will deploy two defensive midfielders (Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo/Paulinho) behind a rather fluid front four. The absence of Neymar means a central role for Oscar, who will be tasked with picking out through balls behind Germany’s high and slow defensive line. Expect plenty of footraces today between Brazilian forwards and German keeper Manuel Neuer.
In response to the injury of left-winger Marco Reus, German coach Joachim Löw abandoned the 4-2-3-1 so popular with the Germans in recent years. He started this tournament with 4-3-3, putting captain Philipp Lahm in the deepest spot in midfield with Toni Kroos and either Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sami Khedira ahead of him. It worked well enough in the 4-0 win over Portugal, but the immobility of a backline without any natural fullbacks was exposed against Algeria’s counterattack. Löw moved Lahm back to right back for the quarterfinal with France and left all three of Khedira, Kroos, and Schweinsteiger to patrol the center. The result was that Lahm still controlled the tempo of Germany’s play, but did so from the right, making more passes than any other player for either side:
With Mesut Özil tucking inside from the German right wing position in front of Lahm, the Lahm vs. Marcelo fullback battle will be the duel to watch today.
Players to Watch
Brazil: Marcelo, the left back. Without Neymar, his partner-in-crime down the Brazilian left, Marcelo will carry an extra attacking burden for Brazil today, especially if the more conservative Maicon starts in place of Dani Alves on the opposite flank.
Germany: Mesut Özil, Germany’s wide-eyed playmaker. His spatial intelligence means his contribution to games is often subtle, but he’s been too quiet this World Cup. He needs to be sharp to take advantage of Marcelo’s aggressiveness today.
Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. They’re great together, usually fair when the English team isn’t playing, and provide great insight into the game. Check out outtakes from this charismatic duo or watch Darke call a date.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Repulsive: Take a shot any time you feel yourself involuntarily move away from the screen when either Fred or Luis Gustavo’s mustache is shown. How drunk? Not drunk enough for the facial hair of these two Burt Reynaldinhos to seem socially acceptable.
Marauders: Take a shot any time one of the two Brazilian fullbacks, Marcelo or Maicon, is the most advanced Brazilian player on the field. How drunk? Bulletproof.
Tweet!: Have a sip whenever a foul is called. How drunk? Steady buzz. Brazil have been so rough that German coach Löw began pleading for mercy from the referee days before the match.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Brazil vs. Colombia, France vs. Germany, Germany vs. Algeria, Brazil vs. Chile, USA vs. Germany, Germany vs. Ghana, Brazil vs. Mexico, Germany vs. Portugal, Brazil vs. Croatia
Picture credit: blog.foxsoccer.com