The 2014 World Cup has reached the last four, an incredible line-up, a semi-final draw that you can only dream about — four huge nations going toe-to-toe. The four great football powers of South America and Europe are left, starting with Brazil and Germany who clash on Tuesday, followed by another titanic duel, Holland and Argentina, the day after.
Brazil and Germany meet for only the second time in the World Cup when they face each other in Belo Horizonte. The only other occasion was in the 2002 final in Japan – when Brazil won 2-0. Luiz Felipe Scolari was the coach behind that Brazil win and will hope to make it a historic double.
However, Brazil, despite winning the World Cup a record five times, has yet to show that it can really win this tournament, although in its first half against Colombia in the quarters it played with the panache and strength that have been both in short supply its first five games but which could perhaps propel it the rest of the way.
Its biggest star Neymar and one of the tournament’s biggest draws, is out of the World Cup with a spinal injury but in truth the absence of the suspended captain Thiago Silva is worse. Neymar was invisible against Colombia and was nowhere to be seen in the second half against Chile, games still won by Brazil in the end.
And it’s not the first time Brazil’s national team loses its best player to injury during a World Cup but wins the tournament all the same. It happened to Pele in 1962 and Brazil still won the title.
BBC Sport pundit Chris Waddle claims Brazil would be “the worst team to win a World Cup” if it does triumph and it is true to say it has not convinced so far. This Brazil is indeed not by a long shot the best team the country has produced for a World Cup but its fanatical support could carry these players to glory.
It seems Brazil is getting there, that the pieces of the puzzle are finally starting to fit, just in time for Germany, a no-nonsense, three-time World Cup winner that more often than not gets the job done.
If there’s one thing you can count on in the World Cup, it’s Germany making it to the latter stages. It has advanced to a record fourth successive semi-final. It has reached this point in seven of the last eight World Cups, a streak that includes one World Cup win, three runners-up finishes and two third-place finishes.
This is Germany’s pattern of consistency which might help it do something never done before: Joachim Low’s side is trying to become the first European team to win the trophy on South American soil.
Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany celebrates against France in the quarter -finals (photo: ar.fifa)
Like Brazil, Germany has not been all that impressive in the run-up to the semi-finals. It had problems with Ghana and Algeria but in truth Germany played as well against them as they did against Germany, which was of an exceptionally high calibre, and the two games saw some of this World Cup’s best football.
The old cliche about German efficiency sometimes does not do justice to how talented and good the Germans really are.
Germany has kept more clean sheets than any other team at this World Cup, three, due in great part to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who, if not the world’s best goalkeeper between the posts, is certainly the best outside of goal with his role as part-time sweeper.
As for the caldron of heat generated by Brazil’s fiery supporters, Germany can call on a group of match-hardened players who are unlikely to be easily unsettled by the atmosphere that will engulf them in Belo Horizonte.
Related to this are the many veteran players who play in Bayern Munich which has enjoyed much success in the Champions League.
It promises to be a thriller and Brazil should win. Of its five World Cups, Brazil has not won a single one in Brazil. It will be pushed by that fact, by the absence of poster boy Neymar, by its rabid fans in the stadium, by the entire nation of 200 million, by its history, and by a strong sense that winning the trophy on home territory is a birth right.