World Cup semi-finals: The key battles

It was the best World Cup ever, it was the worst World Cup ever – as quarter-finals go they were pretty dire. Not a single underdog was able to get up.

Colombia were unceremoniously kicked out by Brazil, and we do mean kicked out.

The French departed with a shrug (which is in fairness their second national sport behind football), heroic Costa Rica were cruelly ejected, and Belgium, well, they were just crap.

The practical upshot of which means that we have a semi-final line-up featuring four of the most successful World Cup nations in the history of the competition.

Hardly a screenwriter’s dream, but there are actually plenty of juicy storylines.

Brazil continue their bid to win a World Cup on home soil - with an average, practical team now shorn of its star player.

Germany’s golden generation have made it to yet another World Cup semi-final - surely this is their last chance before renewal and regeneration casts many of them aside.

The Netherlands, runners-up last time round, have a chance to finally get their hands on the trophy that their nation deserves for its contribution to football, even if that philosophy isn’t apparent in their current team’s style of play.

And then there is Argentina, the grand party poopers, guided by the magical feet of Lionel Messi. A man who despite his prodigious talent has had to fight to gain the acceptance of the Argentine public who see him as a Catalan.

Germany vs Brazil

A replay of the 2004 final, in which Big Phil Scolari’s Brazil dominated Germany, eventually winning 2-0.

Brazil’s hero that night was their then-talisman, fat Ronaldo, who, in bustling spirits if not top form, notched the two goals to seal their victory.

This time round, Big Phil doesn’t have his main man - and nor, as he did in 2004, does he have a host of able deputies.

The Brazilian frontline is lacking in skill, pace and strength.

Fred’s performances have been little short of absurd so far, and his periodic replacement, Jo, has been mesmerically shoddy. The idea that they will present a challenge to Germany’s solid, extremely organised defence, is daft.

Some have suggested that Scolari will play ambulant mountain Hulk up top - and in our opinion it’s his only serious option.

Hulk can hold the ball up and play in Brazil’s attacking midfielders who should look to expose Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace through the middle.

If Fred plays it’s hard to see anything other than a convincing German win.

Germany on the other hand will be under immense pressure. While we make Germany only slight favourites, most pundits are saying it’s theirs to lose.

The one thing this Brazil side have proved themselves to be is ruthless and practical. The idea that Brazil could out-practical Germany is a stark and somewhat chilling one, but in our eyes, given the dearth of talent Germany has in the middle of the park, it’s their only chance.

That said, if Brazil get the same refereeing performance they got against Colombia (i.e., a farcical one) then they’re always going to be a chance.

Netherlands vs Argentina

Up until their snooze fest quarter-final against a Belgian side who failed spectacularly to live up to its billing, Argentina have been all but carried through the competition on the shoulders of Lionel Messi.

Messi though was fairly quiet against Belgium - aside from that pass, and more or less setting up their goal - instead Gonzalo Higuain stepped in, scoring and providing a lot of their go-forward.

That said, Argentina weren’t able to pull clear of Belgium, despite the Europeans looking simultaneously nervous and disinterested until about the 80th minute.

This doesn’t bode well for the Argentines who will find in this Netherlands side a team desperate for redemption, who perhaps for the first time since their opening encounter of the tournament will be going in as firm underdogs - a situation that suits Louis van Gaal and his men.

Arjen Robben, for all his antics or lack thereof (depending on who you believe), has been one of the players of the tournament managing, like Messi, to look menacing every time he finds the ball betwixt his feet.

Van Gaal rode a wave of adulation following his decision to throw on Tim Krul just prior to the Netherland’s shootout with Costa Rica. The tactical genius that many attributed to him as a result seemed to forget the 120 goalless minutes prior to the substitution during which time van Gaal’s vastly superior side should have put the South Americans out of sight.

That they weren’t able to is sure to be reassuring for Argentina, but you can guarantee that the players in the Dutch ranks who took Costa Rica lightly, will not do the same against Argentina.

And the Argentine defence has yet to be severely tested. We think this will change against the Netherlands.

The above are the views of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of  Sportsbet will not be held responsible, and does not accept any liability, for any loss or damage arising from any use of the information contained in the above predictions, and makes no representation that it has verified any of the information contained therein.



Bring on a Germany v Netherland final. I am soooo over the South Americans "divine right" self imposed status......

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