Preview: 2014 FIFA World Cup – Semi-finals
BRAZIL – GERMANY 50% – 50%
The level is so high that there are no favorite teams.
Brazil plays at home, and that can give them an advantage, but can put on them more psychological pressure, while the Germans have to overcome the “curse” of the Semi-final, and Loew will have to show that he isn’t a manager that makes his teams play well but that doesn’t win.
Brazil will be missing Neymar, injuried, and Thiago Silva, banned: the defender’s absence will be the most important and the most difficult one to deal with, but by the other side it’s also true that in this squad there aren’t many offensive options.
Germany as usual will have to decide whether to field a pure striker, Miroslav Klose, or a “false” one, Thomas Muller.
The National Team (NT) that historically is the best in the world plays FIFA World Cup at home, a land where football is the most popular sport: it can’t be among the big favorites. To be honest two years ago Brazil wasn’t among the favorites, because under Mano Menezes‘s management Brazil was falling down, and probably was the weakest in its glorious history: very bad results in friendly matches made the Federation sack the manager and replace him with Luiz Felipe Scolari, who in 2002 had led Selecao to win their fifth and last World Cup, in order to avoid an embarassing performance in the most important event. “Felipao” gave back solidity, trust, organization and a bit of team play to Brazil, and in few months the squad improved a lot and in 2013 dominated the Confederations Cup, that was played at home.
Just 4 footballers play in Brazil (Fred, Jo and two GKs), one in USA/Canada (Julio Cesar), while all of the others in the best European Championships.
It’s hard to believe, but the defence has been the strongest part of Brazilian NT since few years ago: both the central backs Thiago Silva (PSG), Dante (FC Bayern) and David Luiz (FC Chelsea), are very good, even if the last two of them sometimes make few mistakes, and the side backs Maicon (AS Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid CF) and Dani Alves (FC Barcellona) are maybe even better. In the midfield there’s plenty of quality with Oscar, Ramires and Willian (Chelsea FC), Fernandinho (Manchester City) and Hernanes (FC Inter), while among the forwards the main individualities are Neymar (FC Barcellona) and Hulk (Zenit), who should play on the side. The 21-year-old Bernard (Shaktar Donetsk) is the youngest in the squad and probably won’t play a lot, but looks very promising.
The three goalkeepers are very experienced, but this role could be the weak ring of the chain: Scolari trusts Julio Cesar (Toronto FC) and has said several times that he’ll be the starter, but the former FC Inter GK had to go to Canada to play regularly, because was almost inactive at QPR in London: he’s still a good GK, but looks in the descending part of his career, while the other options Jefferson (Botafogo, he had played in Turkey in the past) and Victor (Atlético Mineiro) are quite unknown outside South America.
In the midfield probably there isn’t a pure, very physical, tackler, like Gilberto Silva, for example.
Unless Hulk play in that position, Fred (Fluminense) and Jô (Atlético Mineiro) will probably be the main candidates to start as central forward: they are good players, but none of them is a star (anyway Fluminense’s striker played an excellent Confederation Cup in 2013).
NOT CALLED UP: Kakà, Robinho (AC Milan), Ronaldinho (Atlético Mineiro).
Julio Cesar, Maicon Dante AndreLuiz (C) Dante Marcelo, LuizGustavo Fernandinho, Bernard Oscar Hulk, Fred.
Nobody can deny that the Germans are almost always in the last 4 of World Cup (15 times on 19 Editions) and European Championships, always since 2006: they are a very regular team, that, if points were awarded in every Competition, would surely be the strongest team overall, despite recently it looks like they don’t like Semi-finals.
Solidity and tactical organization and intensity have always been the strenghts of this NT, but this squad has a lot of class and technic as well, especially in the advanced part of the midfield and on the sides, where we can find Mario Götze (FC Bayern München), Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF), Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München), ofted used as forward (a “false nine”), André Schürrle (Chelsea FC) and Tony Kroos (FC Bayern München), while the other star Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) is out because of an injury.
Behind them there are Sami Khedira (Real Madrid CF) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern München), who should organize the play, while the defence looks quite solid with Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München) and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), and the very continuous and ductile Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München), who is the Captain and sometimes can play also as central midfielder, the position in which Josep Guardiola moved him at the Bavarian Club.
The defenders sometimes make (very) few big mistakes, while in the midfield Sami Khedira has just come back from a serious injury and maybe can’t play at 100% for 90 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger had a troubled Season because of injuries.
But the biggest limit could be the absence of a very strong typical striker: in that position Thomas Muller is often fielded, playing as “false nine”, but if an another style of play were needed, there would be just Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio), that is a fox in the box as usual and is very dangerous in the penalty area, but he’s currenty 36 and didn’t have a positive Season.
INJURIED: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Lars Bender (FC Bayer 04 Leverkusen).
NOT CALLED UP: Mario Gomez (ACF Fiorentina).
Neuer – Lahm (C) Boateng Hummels Howedes – Khedira Schweinsteiger - Ozil Muller Kroos – Klose.
HOLLAND – ARGENTINA 55% – 45%
This game looks very open and balanced: two big teams with a great tradition will face eachother in a classic match.
Both of the teams have a very strong attack, but Argentina doesn’t have very good defenders, despite not conceding many goals so far, while the Netherlands have a quite young defence, and the midfield could be better, considering that Kevin Strootman is out because of an injury.
Luis Van Gaal, the Dutch manager, is probably more tactically skilled than Alejandro Sabella, and could make the difference.
We consider the disappointing performance at Euro2012 just an episode that could happen in a very difficult Group of just four teams: anyway that Competition ended Van Marwijk‘s experience on the Dutch bench, and he was replaced by Luis Van Gaal, that, according to the writer of this post (Maxi Lozzo), is one of the best managers in the world, because he can make his teams play a pleasant football and get good results as well. The qualification came quite easily, winning almost every match of a not very difficult Group; anyway after the end of the World Cup, the Dutchman will end his work with the National Team and will be Manchester United FC‘s new manager.
We don’t include Holland among the biggest favorites for the Title, but their victory can never be considered a surprise.
This squad is anagrafically a bit strange, because it’s divided in two big groups: in the first one, as usual, there are a lot of youngsters, especially in the defence, who are mostly from Feyenoord, a team that, thanks to them, is coming back to the leading positions of Dutch football, while in the second Group there are older players, who are alredy over 30, are the biggest stars in the team and are mostly forwards and offensive midfielders. The footballers born between 1985 and 1989, that should be in the middle of their professional careers, are quite underrepresented: they are just 4 (Vlaar, de Guzmán, Lens and Janmaat), not including the Goalkeepers.
GKs Tim Krul (Newcastle United) and Michel Vorm (Swansea FC) look quite reliable, so that Marvin Stekelenburg (Fulham FC) hasn’t been called up after a very disappointing Season in England, but anyway the starter should be Jasper Cillessen (AFC Ajax).
The attack, where there are the most experienced players, is probably the best part of the squad: Van Gaal will have to leave sitted on the bench one between Robin Van Persie (Manchester United) and, probably, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04), two striker that can both score a lot of goals. Moreover there are plenty of offensive midfielders, wingers, and second strikers, such as Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Arjen Robben (Bayern München FC), Jermaine Lens (Dinamo Kyiv, he’s very liked by the Manager) and Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray AS), that with their class increase a lot the quality of the team, and sometimes they can solve the match thanks to their “inventions”.
In the midfield the strong tackler Nigel De Jong (AC Milan) fully recovered from a serious injury and will be very precious to keep the team balanced.
Among the youngsters, the most promising ones should be the defender Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord) and midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV) and Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord).
The defence is very young, maybe too much: that means a lot of freshness and atlethicity, but less international experience as well, because just Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa, 29 years old) has collected so far more than 20 caps for the National Team, while nobody else reached 15 (at the beginning of June, when this post was written); moreover Feyenoord, that provides several defenders to the team, hasn’t played the Group Stage of an European competiton for years.
In the midfield injuries caused the defections of Rafael Van der Vaart (Hamburger SV) and, most of all, of the excellent playmaker Kevin Strootman (AS Roma). They will be very difficult to be replaced, and the new playmaker has still to be choosen: in the friendlies Van Gaal has fielded so far Jordy Clasie, Jonathan de Guzmán (Swansea City AFC) and Leroy Fer (Norwich City).
The majority of the teams in Eredivise (Dutch Championship) plays with 4-3-3, and few players couldn’t adapt very well to 4-2-3-1 or 5-3-2, that probably will be used by Van Gaal and that maybe fits better to the offensive footballers that play abroad.
INJURIED: Kevin Strootman (AS Roma), Rafael Van der Vaart (Hamburger SV).
NOT CALLED UP: Marvin Stekelenburg (Fulham FC), John Heitinga (Fulham FC), Gregory Van Der Wiel (PSG).
Cillessen - Kuyt DeVrij Vlaar MartinsIndi Blind - Wijnaudum DeJongh - Sneijder – Robben VanPersie (C).
The South American NT overcomed easily a weak Group, but maybe in the past has fielded stronger teams: there are probably bigger favorites, but of course the Argentinians have chances to win the Cup. If the Manager Sabella managed to field a balanced team with many stars in the attack as well, Argentina could be a serious pretendent.
The attack is doubtlessly the best part of the team, probably the best in the whole Competition as well: you can choose the ones that you prefer among Gonzalo Higuain (SSC Napoli), Rodrigo Palacio (FC Inter), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City FC), Lionel Messi (FC Barcellona), and Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG).
In the midfield Angél Di Maria (Real Madrid CF) should make the difference, and Javier Mascherano (FC Barcellona) will be a key element in the defensive phasis, and could play in the defence as well, while the experienced Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys) had a very good Season in the Argentinian Championship and, with Enzo Perez (SL Benfica), could replace the winger of the “Merengues”.
One among Fernando Gago (CA Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio) and Ever Banega (Newell’s Old Boys) should be the playmaker.
In the goal the Argentinians could be a bit worried: the starter should be Sergio Romero (AS Monaco), that last Season made several mistakes playing for Sampdoria, and in this one was a replacement in Ligue 1, while Mariano Andujar (Catania Calcio) isn’t the best GK in the world, but looks more reliable.
In the defence the situation could be better, because few elements such as Federico Fernandez (SSC Napoli) and Martìn De Michelis (Manchester City FC) aren’t an assurance, while Ezequiel Garay (SL Benfica) and Hugo Campagnaro (FC Inter), are probably better, but a Walter Samuel from the Golden years is missing.
The midfield is good, but in the past Argentina has been better: Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio) and Ever Banega (Newell’s Old Boys) are decent playmakers, but not among the best in the world.
Moreover Leo Messi with Argentina sometimes doesn’t perform as well as with his Club, because the style of play of Barcelona is perfect for Messi, and Messi is perfect the style of play of Barcellona.
Andujar - Zabaleta DeMichelis Garay Rojo - Perez Mascherano Biglia – Lavezzi Higuain Messi (C).
NOT CALLED UP: Carlos Tevez (Juventus FC).