This World Cup has not failed in any category so far for entertainment value or drama, and the compelling story of Brazil 2014 has lost not just one, but both of it’s main men. 200 million Selecao supporters may have expected the trophy before the 12th of June but tonight even the more ardent of Brazil fans know that this is their toughest test of the tournament so far as they face Germany for a place in the final tonight.
And while it’s to be expected that at this stage they’ll have their toughest test, they must face Germany without either star man Neymar or centreback Thiago Silva, one absent for the rest of the World Cup with a fractured vertebrae and one absent thanks to an act of immense idiocy.
Much has been said about Brazil’s high intensity tactics and just how different they are from the footballing stereotype of Joga Bonito but for the first time this tournament Scolari’s side suffered a negative bounceback from their tactics. The foul which ruled Neymar out of the tournament was one of many reckless challenges that had been let go without punishment from an early stage, and while such things happen in football the standard of tackling upto that point had been abysmal by any standards and it was merely a worst case scenario of a comeuppance from the treatment dished out to James Rodriguez of Colombia on the other side and also from limp willed refereeing in general.
If Neymar’s injury could have been avoided then Silva’s yellow card was a nonsense that was of the defender’s own making – he blocked David Ospina for a free kick – and something that gives his side a serious issue.
Away from the who, what, were and why, there’s no doubting that Neymar and Silva are Brazil’s premier attacking and defensive talents and their absences are serious blows. Neymar has been the premier inspiration for Brazil since he came into the side and has been a class above throughought this tournament, either being Brazil’s most creative player or their most clinical, with his four goals through the tournament the same as Lionel Messi has for Argentina. With him goes a tremendous amount of movement, quality delivery, a fantastic work ethic and the best finisher the side had with Fred just not delivering and Hulk being wayward with the final product as ever.
Oscar had a fine start to the World Cup against Croatia but has petered out since; Disappoint tonight and brazil will have an uphill struggle but if on form he is capable of replacing the Barcelona man in the centre and his linkups with Willian, an embodiment of the high energy Scolari side, will be crucial. Hulk was good as the game went on against Chile but was less impressive last time and today will be a different matter.
The re-arrival of Luis Gustavo is wonderful news but also crucial as it protects Dante, who was exposed on numerous occasions as the highest level for Bayern Munich this season and is not the most reassuring partner for David Luiz, who has been brilliant going forward and at the set piece this tournament. With Neymar out he is going to have first shout on attacking freekicks and also likely to be the target man for the set pieces, and with Brazil having scored first in both knockout ties so far, once thanks to him, he appeals as a big price for first goalscorer at Skybet and Bet Victor, who both pay 20’s with 5 places for a 1/3rd of the odds.
Their first half performance against Chile was by far the best of this tournament and the one performance where they’ve looked worthy of such short prices and the same approach will be taken tonight, but Colombia didn’t bring the form they’d shown previously to the tournament in a strange game where disrupting the opponents’ game became more important than finding your own and this Germany side is likely to be a far more composed and resilient unit tonight.
Jogi Low’s men have been a nearly side with two talented generations, having reached the semi finals in their last four tournaments, but that experience should do them a great deal of good in dealing with a country that may be galvanised by the injury to their star man and a sense of injustice and pride. The Germans themselves haven’t been particularly impressive at any stage during the tournament – their 4-0 win against Portugal was not a fluke but circumstances were greatly fortunate – but some much needed tactical changes worked the oracle against France.
The return of Phillip Lahm to left back gave much better balance to the defence, although Maths Hummells’s return from injury was also vital, and a midfield including Sami Khedira had great success not only shutting down France but moving into spaces found by Kroos and Schweinsteiger.
They will be a test for Brazil to keep tabs on, with a partnership of Luis Gustavo and Ferandinhio effective in a toe to toe encounter against Chile but facing a more technical counter tonight with two deeper lying playmakers and forwards drifting back, not to mention the considerable boost of Andre Schurrle on the bench.
Germany were not tested like they will be tonight against France but they defended more adeptly than they have ay any point through the tournament and ball retention may be their friend in the same way that Spain used to great effect against them twice in 2 years at the same stage while Miroslav Klose’s movement could cause a real handful for the new look centreback pairing. Dealing with Maicon and Marcelo bombing forward will be difficult but at least Lahm faces the latter test and Maicon can be tested by the power running of Thomas Muller.
In short, this looks set to be a very tight game with both sides having strengths and weaknesses, typical of a World Cup semi final. What Germany don’t have, however, is the lack of their main creative and goal-scoring force and their best defender, and against rivals that are at least as well equipped, but crucially far more experienced, than Chile or Colombia, that could well spell trouble for the host side here. Germany are taken, only just, to make the final.
2 pts Germany to reach final (10/11 general)
1 pt each/way David Luiz first goalscorer (20/1 SkyBet, Bet Victor)