Months ago, we envisioned this semifinal with the assumption that both Brazil and Germany would have slugged out as tough a road to this point. We could not have envisioned that one team would arrive building up momentum and securing wins with seeming ease while the other would need miraculous scores, penalty shootouts, and officiating largesse, to make it. Now we can add the fact that Brazil will be missing its two pre-tournament star leaders, Neymar and Thiago Silva.
Today we know the Germans, the only team to have built a training camp in Brazil from scratch and to their very demanding specifications, is the strongest team at this tournament. The Dutch come in second, based on their string of elimination play successes and their talismanic tactician of a coach Louis van Gaal. The Argentines, because of Lionel Messi, are the third best team, and the Brazilians don’t belong in this group—Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Belgium were all better sides.
This Brazilian team tied Mexico, should have drawn against Croatia if the officiating had been fair, and they beat Cameroon. If those had been the results, Brazil would have played the Netherlands in the Round of 16 and probably have been eliminated. But this has been a cup of surprises and the main one left is Brazil, only it is a host in a very different guise.
Brazil without Neymar and Silva today, is like Brazil has been without Kaka, Robinho, Ronaldinho, and Pato, ever since Coach Felipe Scolari chose his 23-man roster but continued giving all comers cameos. They are without creativity, offensive punch, or their defensive leader, and with Scolari at the helm they are out of their depth against Germany. This is not to say another surprise is not in store, it may be. But as of this writing Germany is the only true contender between these two teams.
Germany has star players at all positions, is built on the stable base of one of the best club teams of the past several years, Bayern Munich, and they have won games against all types of competition--a surprisingly physical and technically proficient Algeria, a peaking France, and a pre-tourney contender Portugal, in a first match blow-out. On paper this semifinal simply does not look competitive.
German coach, Joaquim Low, making sure all bases are covered said at his last pre-game press conference: "We hope, the officiating will better control what has been very physical play by the Brazil side." Scolari, speaking to the major issues he sees as mitigating his side's chances, said: "We will miss Neymar and Thiago Silva, but we have players who can step up and play in their steads."
So what can happen today? Anything, and here's why.
Brazil could put the following eleven on the pitch: Cesar, Marcelo, Luis, Dante, and Alves in defense, Ramires, Gustavo, and Willian in midfield, and Oscar, Hulk, and Bernard in attack. The Germans could counter with Neuer, Lahm, Howedes, Boateng, and Hummels in defense, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, and Khedira, in midfield, and Gotze, Ozil, and Muller in attack.
In this match-up, the goalkeepers would have to be considered even given Neuer’s past year and Cesar’s cup play. The defense has to go Germany’s way as they have a strong and consistent line-up of veteran stars who have allowed three goals in five matches while Brazil’s defense is now a makeshift act. The caveat being that Marcelo (or Maicon) and Alves provide the type of offensive punch only Lahm can counter. At midfield and in attack there is no comparison, the Germans are better at all positions.
So what could mitigate this seeming avalanche? First, the officiating, which has been horrendous this cup and which has benefited the Brazilians unfairly. Second, the emotional wave the Brazilians, players and fans alike, will be ridding, which could carry them over Germany if not via skill then via energy and will. Third, the weather for the game will be a comfortable 72-F but with a 30% chance of rain. If it rains the conditions will help even out the chances of a miscue negating some of Germany’s superiority.
Fourth, some of Brazil’s unsung players, particularly the many who have underperformed or simply not been given a chance to play much, such as Hulk, Fred, Willian, Maicon, Bernard, Oscar, and Alves, could have a good game. If enough of them do so at the same time, and outplay their betters, they also have a chance. Fifth, a fortunate happenstance that goes Brazil’s way changes the course of the match, such as a knee-thigh goal or an uncharacteristically phenomenal dry leaf free-kick by a defender . If those circumstances become reality all bets are off. Barring those mitigating circumstances, Germany should win 2-0 and avenge their loss by the same score in 2002.