(Photo Courtesy of Rebels In Tradition)
In preparation of today’s first semifinal (4 PM ET on ESPN), Adam Augustyn and I have detailed why Germany and Brazil will and won’t advance for a shot at glory on Sunday. Without further ado, here are Adam’s thoughts on Germany.
The Germans will win the World Cup because …
1. They possess the deepest roster of any team remaining.
In my preview of Group G, one of the undeniable strengths I highlighted for Jogi Löw’s squad was its enviable collection of talent from throughout the squad. At almost every single position on the field, the Germans possess not only a world-class player in the starting XI, but arguably two or three more waiting on the bench to be brought on. This depth obviously provides Löw with insurance in the case of an injury during training or over these next few matches. But more importantly, this squad depth gives the manager nearly endless opportunities to tinker with his side in order to tailor their strategy to whatever opponent they will face. At this point, it is literally the fear of the unknown for Luis Felipe Scolari because Löw could opt for a number of different strategies against Brazil on Tuesday. For example, Die Mannschaft could feature an overloaded midfield with players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos alongside Sami Khedira as he did against France, allowing the Germans to dominate possession and the freedom to slide all-world right back, Philip Lahm, back to his original position on the outside. Such a decision would force the Brazilians to play through the wings, a task that looks practically impossible considering the form of Brazil’s two would-be wing players, the much-maligned Hulk and Oscar, for most of the tournament. Or, Löw might decide to try and go for the jugular early in the match (unlikely since it’s a tournament semi-final), fielding an XI comprised of some combination of Klose, Müller, Özil, Götze, or any of the other fantastic options coming off the bench. When you have as much firepower as Jogi Löw currently has at his disposal, the possibilities are limitless.
2. They are facing the hosts at the right time.
Normally, being drawn against the host nation, especially in the later rounds of the tournament, is an unenviable proposition. In addition to the obvious pressure of any such match, your squad must now endure 90 minutes against 70,000+ crazed hooligans that are about to witness their country make history, with only you standing in their way. However, luckily for the Germans (who frankly seem to get all the luck in these tournaments) they will be facing the hosts at seemingly the perfect time. As you may have heard by now, Brazil will be without its golden boy, Neymar, after a vicious knee from Columbia’s Juan Zúñiga left the Barcelona man with a fractured vertebrae. Many words have already been spilled on this topic and why Neymar’s injury is such a devastating blow to the Brazilian psyche so I’ll refrain from going into even greater detail here. But suffice to say, when you’re going up against a team that literally just lost a player of Neymar’s obvious quality, let alone a player that has become the face of the entire nation, you’re getting them at a good moment. Furthermore, a key fact that has been overlooked due to the hysteria surrounding Neymar is that Brazil’s captain, arguably the best defender in world football, Thiago Silva will miss the semi-final match against Germany due to yellow card accumulation. Silva has been in imperious form throughout the tournament, even scoring for the Selecão against Columbia, and his immense quality and leadership will be missed.
3. Well, they’re the Germans.
In the World Cup, a nation’s footballing history can have as big of an effect on the team’s play as any other factor, especially as the tournament reaches the later rounds. For example, prior to their six year run as the champions of literally everything, Spain was famous for wilting under pressure at the major tournaments. Yes, they’ve deservedly shirked that reputation now, but this is a real phenomenon that can have an immense effect on a team’s psyche at the World Cup. Hell, if you need any further proof, just look at England over the last fifty years! However, the opposite can hold true as well, and if you’re one of the three most successful nations in World Cup history who are appearing in their fourth consecutive semi-final, you can bet that some of that success has contributed to the team’s mindset. For the Germans, playing in big matches such as these is practically their birthright. And although the Brazilians also possess this type of pedigree, you can be certain that these players will not be afraid of the moment, especially considering how many big matches they’ve played for their respective clubs as well.
The Germans will NOT win the World Cup because …
1. They have serious question marks at the back.
As I mentioned previously, the Germans possess enviable depth at just about every position on the field. However, if there is one chink in this team’s armor, it could very well be their back four and its potential vulnerability to balls over the top. When Löw opts to play right back Philip Lahm in the center of the midfield, this leaves his squad with a slower back four as center back Benedikt Höwedes has been forced to line up out wide. Combined with central defenders Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker, let’s just say the German defenders won’t be challenging the Jamaican Olympic relay team anytime soon. Some suspected that France would be the first team to finally expose this potentially fatal flaw against the Germans. However, the manager brought Lahm back to the wing and Die Mannschaft was able to force the ball to the edges of the field and into one-on-one battles between the French wingers and Germany’s outside defenders. Although Brazil seemingly lacks the pace and width of the French, they still possess more than enough offensive firepower to test the German back four. Big Phil could turn to a more creative player such as the young Bernard to lift the tie in his team’s favor on Tuesday and put the relatively untested German defense under some pressure.
2. Brazil has a date with destiny.
As it has been repeatedly mentioned throughout the tournament, Brazil are yet to lose a competitive match at home since 1970. Do you think Scolari and Co. will let the Germans come in and steal their date with destiny? With over 50,000 rabid Brazilians cheering them on, it would be foolish to bet against the Brazilians in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Furthermore, while some are bemoaning the Selecão’s chances without their talisman, Neymar, could the forward’s injury be the catalyst that spurs this team forward? Let’s not forget that even without the Brazilian starlet, Big Phil will still field a frontline featuring some combination of Oscar, Hulk, Bernard, Hernanes, Willian, Ramires, and…. Fred. So, while it appears that all hope might be lost for the host nation, just remember that they are still guided by a man who knows how to grind out victories in the World Cup (see: the last match against Columbia), and can now tap into the patented “Nobody Believes In Us” angle for a team that is already perfectly capable of winning it all.
The Brazilians will win the World Cup because …
1. It is meant to be.
As Adam already mentioned, the Brazilians certainly will have support today. The German fans will undoubtedly be suppressed by thousands of yellow and green supporters who will hope to will their side to victory. Up to this point, the Brazilians have seemingly had the bounces go their way. Fred’s theatrics in the opener discarded a game Croatia side. Julio Cesar’s saves, and the framework of his goal, guided Brazil past Chile in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, Brazil crept past a Columbia side thanks to some shoddy marking by Los Cafeteros and an otherworldly free kick by Sideshow Bob David Luiz.
Brazil has looked incredibly vulnerable to this point and that vulnerability will only grow as they’ll be without their best defender and they’re most dynamic attacker. However, the hometown team will draw upon an inspired crowd, and will likely play with an underdog mentality. A quick start will enable this team to gather the energy of those in attendance and push forward with an entire country behind them.
2. It feels uncomfortable to say this, but Big Phil Scolari will make the right decisions.
Let me make my opinion clear. I don’t think Luiz Felipe Scolari is a particularly good coach. A quick glance at his management career suggests a man who quickly wears out his welcome with each new club he signs on with. Since his coaching career began back in 1982 with Brazilian club CSA, Scolari has coached for 24 different clubs. He’s seemingly coached every team in Brazil (including Grêmio and Palmeiras on more than one occasion), and he’s also bounced around to several high-bidding Middle Eastern clubs. I personally remember him fondly for his brief tenure at Chelsea where he was hired and fired within a year (Thankfully his plans to sell Didier Drogba didn’t come to fruition).
However, despite my beliefs, one has to give credit where credit is due. Big Phil has been successful on the international stage. In 2002, Scolari won the World Cup with a Ronaldo-led in Brazil. After taking over a perennially underachieving Portugal side, he led them to a Euro final in 2004, a semifinal appearance in the 2006 World Cup, and another quarterfinal appearance in the 2008 Euros. Upon his return to Brazil almost two years ago, Scolari led this team to Confederations Cup glory, and more importantly a boost in confidence following a victory over Spain. Scolari now has The Seleção on the doorstep of a sixth championship.
Heading into a matchup with Germany, Scolari certainly has some interesting decisions to make. In the back, he’ll be without his captain and center back Thiago Silva. Will he replace the PSG man with Dante or Henrique? The logical choice would be Dante, who has featured heavily over the past two seasons for Bayern Munich and subsequently is familiar with the German opposition. Henrique, 27, did come on as a substitute late on against Columbia ahead of Dante. While Marcelo and David Luiz are unquestioned starters, Scolari will also have to choose between Dani Alves and Maicon at right back. Maicon was a surprise start against Colombia after the diminutive Alves started and played every minute of the host nation’s first four games. Both are better going forward and leave a bit to be desired defensively. It’ll be interesting to see who Scolari trusts more against a potent German attack.
Scolari’s most pressing decisions come within the Brazilian midfield and attack. Big Phil will essentially be forced to choose the lesser of two evils up front (Fred or Jo). Both have failed to impress and have combined for a single goal so far. Scolari’s decision on how to replace Neymar will have a significant say within the course of this game. Will he add further steel by reinserting Luis Gustavo alongside Paulinho and Fernandinho? Will he merely opt for a straight swap and look to Willian, Bernard, or Hernanes to attempt to replace Neymar’s attacking creativity? Or will he opt for Ramires’ tireless energy?
A big decision for Big Phil. His international track record suggests he has the ability to make the right call.
The Brazilians will NOT win the World Cup because …
1. They’re playing Germany without their two best players.
Playing what is likely the most talented team left in the tournament is tough enough. Doing so without your captain and best defender AND your most dynamic and creative attacker is borderline nightmarish. Neymar’s injury is a heartbreaking one. After taking a Bruce Lee-style flying knee from Columbia right-back Juan Zúñiga, Neymar broke a bone in his back and will miss out on the remainder of the tournament. His absence will truly be a shame for a player that was rising to the high expectations placed upon him.
After a tumultuous first season with Barcelona, the young phenomenon tallied four goals and an assist in Brazil’s five game run. While his production will be tough to replace, his on-field role within the team will be a tougher challenge for Scolari. The past two games have been a resounding departure from the free-flowing, dynamic counter-attacking football that we’ve grown accustomed to watching Brazil feature. Instead, over the past two knockout games, The Seleção has resorted to hit-and-hope long balls and set pieces to eliminate its South American foes. During those two fixtures, Neymar was seemingly the only player that placed fear the hearts of opposing defenders. He was instrumental in creating chances that threatened back lines. He glided past defenders with dribbling runs, put his teammates into good positions with incisive passes, and drew fouls that allowed for dangerous set-piece opportunities. His absence will turn that responsibility over to teammates that have failed to impress consistently.
Likewise, Thiago Silva justly earned himself a suspension after his idiotic yellow card against Colombia. I think by now the immensely gifted defender should know that intentionally running into a goalie who’s trying to punt the ball up field is frowned upon. Silva’s absence is just as damaging as Neymar’s. As demonstrated by the staggering transfer fees paid to acquire Silva’s services, the Brazilian might be the best in the world at his craft. His team will try to replace him with Dante or Henrique, and also hope that David Luiz can continue playing intelligently without his longtime partner.
2. The luck will run out.
As I mentioned earlier, the Brazilians have benefitted from a generous amount of luck thus far. While Columbia and Chile weren’t able to capitalize on the host nation’s shortcomings and recently archaic style of play, the Germans will. Despite a heroic effort surrounded by their fans, the Brazilians will be overcome by the German’s overwhelming quality.