So here we are, after a fantastic World Cup with brilliant matches, great football and the odd shock, we have ended up with four traditional powerhouses of Football in the semi-finals – roll on Tuesday 8th July I say – I think we are in for two fantastic matches – here goes with my preview and predictions.
Brazil v Germany
Friday 4th July 2014, the Maracana Stadium, Rio. Germany go into this game as favourites with the bookies but a lot of people (including myself) thinking that France would have the edge. Murmurings of a flu bug effecting the Germans were rife (I did not believe – all mind games in my opinion) and maybe the French went in thinking this will be easy, if they did, they know nothing about the German psyche. Joachim Low shuffled the pack with subtle changes in defence, midfield and up front. They began the game on the front foot and deservedly took the lead through the returning Matt Hummels, a fantastic header from a free kick. France had only just started coming into the game, classic Germany. It was now up to the French to turn up the heat and put the pressure on as an equalizer was needed, however trying to score past an obdurate and tactically spot on Germany team is no easy task especially as Hummels was peerless in defence. France huffed and puffed, but for once their manager, Didier Deschamps, got it wrong by not introducing new players and a change in tactics earlier in the game, opting to leave it till after 70 minutes before making his first substitution (and that was a like for like swap of centre halves), more attacking changes were made very soon after. Germany should have wrapped the game up really as they had chances on the counter through Andre Schurrle and they were nearly made to regret these missed opportunities in the last seconds when Neuer saved from a disappointing Karim Benzema, to be fair the whole French performance was a let down, they went out on a limp and never really gambled when they were a goal down. So a tactical masterclass from Low and Germany move on to their fourth consecutive World Cup semi final, their thirteenth in total.
In the last four they will face the hosts Brazil, who again flattered to deceive in beating Colombia in Fortaleza. An outstanding first half where they could have been two or three up (they lead 1-0 thanks to a Thiago Silva goal from a corner) was followed by a jittery and stop start second half that was lit up by David Luiz’s wonder free kick to double their lead with ultimately the winning goal. Colombia did not turn up (well until about the 70th minute) however the referee’s performance (his name Carlos Velasco Carballo or #cluelesscarlos) of not stamping down on persistent fouling especially of their star man James Rodriguez influenced this. A late penalty gave Los Cafeteros a glimmer of hope, but they could not force an equalizer and their World Cup was over. Its a shame when in a fantastic tournament where you want the football to do the talking, that when it comes to the hosts the officiating is part of the narrative, if #cluelesscarlos gets another game then its a worry in regards to what is happening to our refereeing standards – but it is FIFA so anything is possible!!!!!!!
Anyways both teams now head off to Belo Horizonte this coming Tuesday (8th July) for only their second ever meeting in a World Cup, their first meeting was in the 2002 Final with a Ronaldo inspired Brazil prevailing. A major concern for the five time champions is that their captain Thiago Silva is suspended and their talisman Neymar will miss the rest of the World Cup. With the Germans at full strength and Low showing signs of knowing exactly what is required to win a match under certain conditions – the referee appointment will be interesting – so I can see the three time winners reaching their first final for 12 years (a record 8th in total) with a 1-3 victory and spoil the home party – typical Germans hey 🙂
Argentina v Holland
Right lets start with Argentina, an early goal from one of their strikers (yes people one of them actually scored a goal!!!!!!!) won them the match. Gonzalo Higuain was the man who settled this game with an 8th minute winner, an instinctive strike from the edge of the box after a ricochet, a beautifully guided shot that gave Belgian keeper, Thibaut Courtois, no chance of saving it. The Argentine’s basically then shut up shop making it extremely difficult for Belgium to break them down, whilst also being quick on the counter to try and extend their lead. Unfortunately their main man when breaking quickly from defence, Angel Di Maria, injured his thigh and had to go off after 33 minutes, which may end his participation in the World Cup. Belgium did create chances and gave it a proper go but Argentine know how, last ditch defending as well as some cynical clever fouls saw the South American side through and deservedly so on the balance of play – Belgium tried their hardest but just could not blow the Argies door down – and they make the last four of the World Cup for the first time in 24 years. Argentina’s manager, Alejandro Sabella, will be very pleased how his side saw out the game especially as their talisman, Lionel Messi, had a quiet game by his standards, that usually does not happen two games on the run, so the Dutch need to beware.
So onto Holland who survived a penalty shootout to beat plucky Costa Rica, in what was for me, my favourite game of the tournament. Yes it was 0-0 but it did not disappoint. To start with it was an end to end game, with both sides trying to prise out what would have been an all important opening goal. However as the game wore on the Dutch gained the upper hand and started to dominate proceedings, with the match increasingly become a large scale version of attack versus defence . However they could not breach the strong and organised Costa Rica backline, especially goalkeeping hero, Keylor Navas. Robin Van Persie. Wesley Sneijder, Memphis Depay, Ron Vlaar, Arjen Robben were all kept out by the Costa Rican stopper and if he was beaten the post came to his rescue or a defender clearing off the line. Amidst all this the Central Americans were very dangerous on the break and whilst Holland were laying siege to the Costa Rican goal, they occasionally broke out and it needed last ditch defending from the Dutch or a save from their keeper to keep it level. As said no goals but drama to the end, even to the point that Louis Van Gaal saved a substitution right till the end of the extra time period, when penalties were inevitable, to bring on a sub goalkeeper, Tim Krul, for the shootout. Two saves (and a 100% penalty record from the Oranje) later and through they were to the World Cup semi-finals for the second tournament in a row. An amazing game, in my opinion and despite an outstanding performance by the Central Americans, the Dutch deserved to win because of their sustained attacking intent, but Costa Rica have been a breath of fresh air and deserve massive credit for their performances in this World Cup.
So its now Sao Paulo on Wednesday 9th July for the Argentine’s and the Dutch. They have met four times in the World Cup with two wins for Holland and a draw. The one Argentina victory was the most important meeting when they met in the 1978 World Cup Final and the South Americans prevailed in extra time, though a lick of paint on the post was the difference as Rob Rensenbrink nearly won it for the Oranje with seconds to go in normal time. Both sides have unfinished business in the World Cup, Argentina would just love to win it in the backyard of their biggest rivals, Brazil, and the Dutch want to rid themselves of the bridesmaid tag after three final defeats. Well I’ve tipped the Argentine’s for the title so have to stick with them for this one. 2-1 to Argentina in what I feel will be an absolute classic.
So my predicted final is Germany v Argentina – what a game that will be, but too be fair any combination of these four teams will in my opinion produce a fantastic final on the 13th of July in Rio. BRING IT ON!!!!!!! 🙂
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth