Four teams will take the field in Tuesday and Wednesday’s World Cup Semifinals knowing they have each been afforded a tremendous opportunity. But for Germany, the opportunity has indeed never been greater. And if coach Joachim Loew’s team can rise to the occasion, a bit of history may be made in the process.
On paper, the Germans and Brazil match up favorably. Both squads boast a combination of skilled offensive players, reliable defensive performers and solid goaltenders. Depth is also a strength of the two teams, as is the benefit of having two experienced men coaching from the bench.
Where Germany may be able to separate themselves is in the always-important area of intangibles. Brazil, for all their pedigree and talent, is wounded. Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows it. The average soccer-living Brazilian knows it. And you can bet Loew and his German side know it.
First, Brazil lost defensive talisman Thiago Silva to yellow-card accumulation. Granted, most sides expect to lose some players due to yellow-card infractions. And with a skillful Dante waiting in the wings, Silva’s loss can be handled.
A more telling blow for Scolari’s squad is the broken vertebrae suffered by poster-boy Neymar. The precocious striker with the dazzling moves and penchant for big plays is now lost for the tournament. Brazil’s other forwards, Fred and Hulk, have been inconsistent thus far.
Hulk, who has often performed in deference to Neymar, will now be counted on to provide most of the offense due to Fred’s frequent disappearing acts through five games. Tuesday’s contest therefore represents Hulk’s first action as the featured forward for a team that has come to rely on Neymar to generate the bulk of their scoring chances.
In other words, Brazil are vulnerable. How that vulnerability translates on the field will be the largest subplot in a contest full of them.
Germany, meanwhile, enter the contest in Belo Horizonte with a full roster and restored confidence after their victory over France in the quarters. The precision passing was back and the Germans were in control for most of the afternoon against a talented French side. Midfielders Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger all had excellent moments and the defense was strong in front of Manuel Neuer.
Will a repeat performance be enough to push the Germans past the home-standing Brazilians? Time will tell, but for the first time in the tournament, Brazil face an opponent with equal skill while missing their two top players. Add in the unrelenting pressure of facing a World Cup Semifinal on home soil and Brazil find themselves in uncharted territory.
On the other side will be a German squad hungry to claim some hardware. After all, Germany haven’t claimed a major international title since their victory at the European Championships in 1996. It’s a shocking drought considering the vast number of quality players produced annually by Europe’s most consistent world soccer power.
It’s also a fact not lost on Loew and his team. Simply put, this tournament has always about putting Germany back on top in their eyes. With Silva and Neymar missing, you can bet those feelings are at a fever pitch.
The door is open for Germany. Whether they walk through remains the only question.