While Costa Rica and Belgium were nice stories, the World Cup has narrowed down to the final four and the cream has risen to the top. After all, getting Argentina, Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands in to the semifinals pretty much reads like a who’s who of international soccer.
That also means some very juicy team and personal matchups will play out over the next week. However, we’re here to focus on the semifinal between host-nation Brazil and Germany.
If you believe Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, its World Cup favorite against ultimate underdog in this matchup. Yet, a deeper dive suggests this may be much closer than the experts think.
There are five big keys to how this game will play out, whether Brazil or Germany win. So, let’s take a look at those keys.
5. Philip Lahm vs. Oscar
Oscar is going to be the guy most point to as the creative replacement for Neymar being out. Unfortunately he’s going up against one of the biggest stalwarts in the German back line in Philip Lahm.
Lahm moved back to right back after a wholly unsuccessful stint as a holding midfielder and he has shined in the new role. He’s been lethal on the counter-attack for the Germans and that’s the scary scenario for Oscar.
He will need to balance his needed creativity on offense with not allowing Lahm to roam free down the right side of the field. If he can’t keep up on the defensive end, it could be a long day for Brazil. Conversely, if Oscar is able to use his speed to his advantage and wear Lahm down the Brazilian attack may be very dangerous late in the contest.
4. Fred’s Performance
Will the real Fred please stand up? It isn’t unfair to say Fred has been the biggest disappointment on the Brazilian national team at this World Cup. His claim to fame so far is the infamous “penalty” he won in the World Cup opener, but since then he’s disappeared on the pitch. With Neymar out Fred has to find a way to be the player we all thought he would be coming in to the World Cup.
Is Fred capable of being “the guy” now that he doesn’t have Neymar covering him up? He wasn’t really that effective (scoring all of one goal at this World Cup) with the extra attention away from him, so let’s see if he can step up and fill the massive void left by Neymar’s absence.
3. How Brazil’s Back Line Handles Losing Thiago Silva
While a lot of the headlines leading up to this match will rightfully be about how Brazil replaces Neymar, the Germans have to find a way to break down one of the World Cup’s best defensive teams. Yes, I just said the words “best,” “defense” and “Brazil” all in the same sentence — such are the times we live in in international soccer.
Brazil has only allowed four goals all tournament long and held one of the better attacking sides, Mexico, scoreless in it’s 0-0 draw in group play. One of the keys to that has been captain Thiago Silva, however he’ll miss this match due to accumulation of yellow cards. Losing not only a great central defender, but also the captain and having to face one of the best attacks in the World Cup has to be a key to watch for.
Miroslav Klose, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil have been very lethal in attack and Brazil will be breaking in a new central defensive pairing against that group. Luckily for Brazil, Silva’s replacement will be Dante, who plays his club soccer for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and is rather familiar with most of Germany’s attacking options. That may be the ace in the sleeve for the Brazilians, but it will be interesting to see how this new look back line communicates and works because its been a tight ship all tournament long.
2. Germany’s Back Line Needs to Stand Up
Germany have given up a grand total of three goals in this tournament, but they haven’t faced a team that is capable of putting together as much offensive firepower as Brazil.
In order for Germany to leave with a win it can’t allow some of the sleeping giants to wake up. Fred, Willian and Hulk are all capable of hitting you when you are sleeping — they just haven’t done it with regularity all tournament long.
Germany’s Mats Hummels has been one of the best defensive players in the World Cup and he’ll need to continue to lead this group and shut down a more center-based attack from Brazil this time around.
1. How Brazil Makes up for Loss of Neymar
Just how desperate are the Brazilians? Any glimmer of hope is latched on to as proof that Neymar really isn’t as injured as officials and Neymar himself are saying. In the last 24 hours Brazilian media have reported that Neymar was trying to get back on the field by the final — something he has denied with statements of support for his teammates.
All that aside, losing Neymar is a massive blow to a team that will need everything in attack against one of the best defensive sides in this World Cup. Brazil have scored 10 goals this tournament and are tied for the most from set pieces with three. That’s where Neymar has done most of his damage for the Brazilians and he’s been out of this world lethal:
5 – Neymar (4 goals, 1 assist) is the first Brazilian player to be involved in 5+ goals in one World Cup since 2002. Special.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 4, 2014
We’ve already talked about the need for Fred to step up, but there’s also Hulk and Neymar’s likely replacement, Willan, to add to the mix. In the end, we really haven’t seen this group do much and it’s a scary proposition having to face Germany’s stout defense as well.