By Marcus Louison
Tuesday July 8th
Two of football’s juggernauts go head-to-head in a titanic clash in Belo Horizonte that’s far too close to call. Brazil, known for their flair and panache, have operated with more of a German-like efficiency at these Finals, so a clash with Die Mannschaft, the team they beat in the 2002 Final to lift their fifth title, is fascinating to say the least.
Brazilian superstar Neymar, victim of a reckless challenge from Colombia’s Juan Zuniga, will miss the rest of the tournament with a slightly cracked vertebrae. Captain Thiago Silva, arguably the team’s second best player, and potentially most important, also misses out due to suspension to create an unwanted selection headache for Luiz Felipe Scolari; A man whose stress levels have already reached fever pitch. The much vaunted Dante will likely step in for Silva, and though his quality and experience isn’t in question, his ability to reach peak-performance in a powder keg semifinal is an altogether different proposition, especially since he’s yet to see a minute of game time at these Finals. The ever-reliable Luiz Gustavo returns from suspension, and this should see a move slightly further forward for the impressively versatile Fernandinho. Willian, an impressive performer in a couple cameo roles, should deputize for Neymar. The wiry Bernard is also an option.
Joachim Loew has an almost fully fit squad to choose from, with Shkodran Mustafi the only unavailable player. Low, reluctantly, returned Captain Phillip Lahm to right back vs France, and he’ll likely play there again. The XI that started vs France may do the same vs Germany, though there are calls for the work-shy Mesut Ozil to be replaced. If so, the impressive Andre Schurrle should come in to add some much needed pace to a sometimes leisurely German attack. Miroslav Klose may also get another chance to finally break Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup goalscoring record, but whether that is as a starter or from the bench is left to be seen.
It will likely be on the mind of Joachim Loew to test the brand-new central defensive partnership of David Luiz and Dante/Henrique. Luiz has had a fantastic tournament, but might be slightly less comfortable fully marshaling the back line for the first time. Expect to see Germany start on the front foot to apply pressure that will surely test the nerves of Dante/Henrique.
A Selecao will also sense the vulnerability of Germany’s defensive line. Phillip Lahm adds some much needed balance and pace, but Benedikt Howedes, astute as he may be, is still being deployed out of position on the left, and he is far from fleet of foot. Loew favors his center backs to push high up the field, a ploy that was exploited by Algeria, especially Ben Slimane. The excellent Manuel Neuer was the savior that day on numerous occasions, and it will be interesting to see if he can time his runs to perfection on numerous occasions again. Brazil’s offense is yet to reach maximum fluidity. Today might be the day..
Defences will be key, as they always are, but the game just might be won or lost in midfield. Both teams will have players of the highest order operating in an area that is sure to be a melting pot. Oscar has been disappointing since his brilliant game vs Croatia in the tournament opener, and a performance of a much higher level will be required as he is set to lock horns with the world-class Bastian Schweinsteiger and trusty sidekick, Toni Kroos.
The last point of note is certainly the referee. Brazil has been far more physical at this World Cup than previous tournaments, and the quarterfinal vs Colombia was a shockingly brutal affair. Mexico’s Marco Rodriguez is the man entrusted with keeping a lid on what is sure to be a tempestuous affair.