There are no two bigger national teams in the world of football than Brazil and Germany. Between the pair of them are fourteen appearances in the World Cup final (seven each), and a long list of some one the greatest players the game as ever bore witness to.
The host nation, winner of five World Cups, father to the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Garrincha, Romario and of course Il Fenomeno - no one is under more pressure to deliver than the current national team, with the entire nation expects them to capture their sixth World Cup in a summer that would make their predecessors clap in appreciation.
Germany, winners of three World Cups, have given us Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Kahn, Karl Heinze Rummenigge, Gerd Muller and Fritz Walter – they have not won the World cup since 1990, while their overall trophy drought as been since their win at Euro ’96. Despite their machine-like dominance and the “eins-zwei” Prussian nature of their approach to the game, they have everything to prove this summer.
The clash of heads to take place in Belo Horizonte later today represents the chance for one of them to eclipse the other, and reach their eight World Cup final. Despite the minimum requirement of reaching the semi-finals having been met, both Brazil and Germany have had their fair share of struggles. Their summers have been far from cut and dry, and unlike the World Cup winning sides before them, the pair of them still have it all to do to win over the true affection of the public – reaching the finals is the second to last step.
Projected Starting XI’s
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar; Marcelo, David Luiz, Dante, Dani Alves; Fernandinho, Luiz Gustavo; Willian, Oscar, Hulk; Fred
Germany (4-3-3): Manuel Neuer; Benedikt Howedes, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Phillip Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira; Toni Kroos; Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose, Thomas Muller
Key’s for Brazil:
- With the absence of Neymar for the rest of the tournament through an injury that nearly left him paralyzed, Brazil are now without their talisman and biggest influence going forward – but all hope is not lost. If they are to break down the stubborn German defense and put Manuel Neuer under intense pressure, they’ll need to put their faith in the playmaking abilities of Oscar. Very quietly, he’s had a brilliant tournament. With the offense now likely to run through him rather than Neymar, this could be exactly what Brazil have really needed. With the added potential of his club-mate Willian to replace Neymar, if the best is brought out of Oscar tonight, Germany is in dire straights.
- They must call upon Dante to replace Thiago Silva in the center of defense. Despite his ability at the back, who else but him would know Germany inside and out? Germany is likely to start either six or seven Bayern Munich players, and given Bayern is where he plays his club football, it is a no brainer to start a center back who knows the inner workings of each and every one of them – it’s a potential huge advantage for the Selecao that they would be foolish to not tap into.
- Despite his preference for Fred, it may be wise for Luiz Felipe Scolari to give Jo a proper run instead. Fred is a very good target man, but his abilities there will be left wanting as no one does the aerial game better than the Germans. The mobility and added pace of Jo would give Germany a greater problem in the long run, coupled with the runs from Hulk and Willian/Bernard, it could be a tough day at the office for them if Brazil tries to exploit their lack of pace at the back.
Key’s for Germany:
- The notion that Germany have reached the semi-finals on the back of the new 4-3-3 tactical set up that Joachim Low has deployed this summer should not blind many to the fact that, in truth, it has not been a rousing success. Apart from their 4-0 drubbing of Portugal, Germany have more often than not struggled in this system. With the change to a possession style of play at Bayern, that ha forced Low’s hand to do the same for the national team, and it could be their undoing. There is no one better at counter attacking than the Germans (insert historical facts here from WW1 or WW2 if you like), and it may well be time for them to turn to their old deck of cards.
- Toni Kroos has been one of Germany’s best players, but his inclusion in a more advanced creative role has muted the effectiveness of Mesut Ozil. Low may want to consider a bit of a tactical shift for this match, and deploy Kroos in midfield along side Bastian Schweinsteiger. In doing so, he can then slot Ozil behind the striker in his preferred role, and then bring a bit of added pace and directness on the left wing in either Andre Schurrle or Lukas Podolski. Ozil has been creative this summer surely, but it’s when he’s in the center of it all is when he’s at his best.
- The curious case of Phillip Lahm must be solved once and for all – keep playing him at right-back. Against Brazil, it is not the time or place to deploy two center-backs out of position, and it’s bad enough they continue to do so with Benedikt Howedes at left-back. Lahm adds a massive amount of stability in the back when deployed there, a position that he was the best in the world that for the better part of a decade. His inclusion there means the pace of Jerome Boateng at center-back along side Mats Hummels makes them harder to by-pass as when Per Mertesacker was relied on. Safe and secure at the back must be step one for Germany today.
- Luiz Gustavo v Toni Kroos – Gustavo is likely to return to the Brazil XI after serving his one match suspension for yellow card accumulation, and his immediate task must be to shut down the creative presence of Kroos in midfield. With Ozil really being the only other true creative player in the side, eliminating 50% of the equation for the Germans would be a massive step in the right direction for Scolari’s men.
- Benedikt Howedes v Hulk – He has yet to score this summer, but Hulk’s level of play has greatly increased in the last few matches and on that evidence, he looks primed to open his World Cup account. Despite his size, he has fantastic pace, and when you couple that with his physical ability, it could well be a massive problem for Howedes. A center-back by trade, Howedes as been caught out and beaten for pace numerous times this summer, and coming up against a winger who can wrestle him off the ball is a qualified nightmare in the making – he’ll need to be flawless.
- Manuel Neuer v Julio Cesar – Yes, of course, they won’t be going head to head on the pitch, but these two have been in the discussion for the best keeper at the tournament. Neither have made many mistakes at all, but both have made quite a few match saving saves this summer. Whomever has the better performance could well singlehandedly help his nation progress to the final. Much like a bit of playing chicken, whichever keeper blinks first could make the one and only mistake in a match that could well end 1-0 despite the quality throughout both sides.
This is one of those matches where the team that scores first will probably progress to the final. Despite both Scolari and Low knowing that same fact, it’s hard to picture both sided coming out all guns blazing, as they’ll be worried about being the one to go down early first and then resort to chasing the match for the remainder of it. While this will no doubt be fantastic to watch, I do not see many goals in it in truth. My gut tells me this will end up a very entertaining 1-0 affair, with brilliant performances from both keepers. Brazil are without Neymar and no one knows yet what that means for them, while Germany do struggle in their own right to tuck away chances. Despite their 39-year’s undefeated at home, I do think this is where it all comes to and end (yes I said the same thing when they played Colombia). I think this is the match where Germany fire on all cylinders. 2-1 Germany for me.