World Cup Semi-Final | Belo Horizonte | Tue 8 Jul | 9pm
Freaky Friday. Big. Vice Versa. Face/Off. The body-swap movie has been a surprisingly rich genre for Hollywood over the years. Supporters of the Selecao and Die Mannschaft can be forgiven for believing that over recent years the God of Football has watched The Hot Chick a couple of times, thought Rob Schnieder’s hair looked a bit like Marcelo’s, and decided to mix things up, sending down a lightening bolt that suddenly imbued ugly old Germany with the wit and verve long linked to o Jogo Bonito, while turning Brazil into a Teutonic grinding machine, a playground bully that gets results but nobody calls pretty any more.
They are less attractive still following the loss of the sole individual whose carefree, cocky forward play is reminiscent of “the Brazilian Way”. Neymar’s injury has been greeted with a perspective-losing hysteria, a lachrymose nation reacting like a bunch of wailing Palestinian widows with real problems, and there’s a hypocrisy there too: in their last match, Brazil conceded 31 fouls, more than their side has in an single World Cup game since 1966.
It’s little wonder half the Colombia team didn’t leave the pitch on gurneys along with the home nation’s golden boy. Thiago Silva is also suspended, somewhat unfortunately for a second yellow in five games, but them’s the rules. His chemistry with David Luiz – Dante is the likely replacement – will be sorely missed.
All of which poses the question: how on earth does a one-man side win without their man? There’s much talk of Willian as the “New Amarildo” – the player who successfully stepped in for a young Pele in 1962 as Brazil coped with a major blow and stormed to victory.
In the excellent Oscar, there is also a decent understudy for Neymar’s lead role, and the wild-eyed David Luiz will captain the Selecao in Belo Horizonte, no doubt driving them forward from defence. Somehow, they must find a way – and that way is surely through foiling, fouling and frustrating, then capitalising on counter-attacks, set-pieces or a penalty shootout.
Germany’s “problems”, meanwhile, are totally different. On paper – on neutral soil and with a level-headed ref, certainly – they should be very strong favourites in this semi. They are beautifully balanced, and their last six goals in the competition have come from six different players. They have an experienced, settled management team, a sense of calm, a well-worn system, an incredible goalkeeper, Thomas Muller’s goals and the class of Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Philipp Lahm. They are injury and suspension free and have shaken off “flu”.
But for all the comparative failings of Hulk, Fred and company suggesting that Germany have an open goal here, the Europeans face some truly major psychological obstacles. Jogi Low’s men are getting wearily used to failing at the business end of tournaments in games that they should win. Overcome this self doubt, and the title awaits – but they are also facing a home side powered by a sense of injustice, a sense of destiny, the apparent will of God (Luiz has a direct line), truly crazy home crowds and the odd officiating favour. It might be enough to just get an average Brazil side over the line.
What the local media say
Brazil can’t move on. “Clattered by the knee of the Colombian right-back Juan Zúñiga, the best Brazilian attacker is out of the World Cup,” sobs Correio Braziliense. “A wave of sadness has invaded the country. For the first time under Felipão’s control the Seleção will play without its star in the No.10 shirt, against the strongest team in this tournament: Germany. In 1962 Brazil was deprived of Pelé’s genius, also through injury, but won the title. It is time to repeat the feat.”
The Germans, meanwhile, are massively counting their chickens. “Losing Neymar is like Germany losing Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Muller
Key battle: Fernandinho vs Schweinsteiger
Much as they did against Colombia, Brazil will probably attempt to disrupt Germany by slowing down the play: a robust approach twinned with taking their time at set-pieces. Fernandinho was Brazil’s chief enforcer against James Rodriguez & Co. as he made a field-leading 10 ball recoveries, and he will tread a disciplinary tightrope as he tries to break up Germany’s excellent midfield. Schweinsteiger, who completed 45 out of 53 passes against France, is the German hub in front of a back four, but he can become flustered when closely policed. Whether German possession or Brazilian disruption prevails will go a long way towards deciding the winner.
Facts and figures
- The Seleção have lost 0 of their last 6 semi-final matches, winning 5 and drawing the other.
- Germany are the first country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 4 consecutive tournaments.
- Brazil have scored in each of their last 10 clashes with Germany, averaging 2.2 goals per game.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Head says Germany, gut instinct says Brazil. The home side to sneak through in extra-time. Skulduggery to perhaps play a part. 2-1.