Today’s game - SS3/UBC
Brazil vs Germany 11pm
Netherlands vs Argentina 11pm
There is no bigger World Cup showdown than Brazil versus Germany, five-time winners and three-time champions. Strangely this is only the second time the two teams face off at a World Cup, the first having been in the 2002 World Cup final where Brazil triumphed 2-0.
Although the team’s identity has undergone metamorphosis under the management of pragmatic coaches Dunga and Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil remained famed as the masters of artistry. On the contrary Germany are efficiency personified.
Belo Horizonte, the venue for today’s late afternoon kickoff, will be tense when the two giants of world football lock horns.
It will be a dome of perspiration. Bus tickets were sold out by Friday evening at Rodoviara Novo Rio station. There are no air tickets available either. It is as if the whole of Brazil will be inside the 62160-seater Estadio Mineirao.
When Brazil was stretched to a post-match shootout by Chile in the second round at the same venue in scorching conditions, hearts virtually stopped. The tension was unbearable.
That was at the round of 16. Today is the penultimate stage of the World Cup final where increased expectations come with higher levels of anxiety. Germany are a formidable opponent at any level of the World Cup. But Brazil’s biggest obstacle will be within their stable.
They have no Neymar, their talisman out of the tournament after breaking a vertebrae on Friday. He will be watching the match on television in Sao Paulo where he is recuperating. Thiago Silva, the captain, is suspended. Brazil basically have to reach their first World Cup final in 12 years without their two most influential players.
Scolari must shuffle his team to make them as resolute behind and slippery upfront. He may call upon Dante to play alongside David Luiz at the back. There is no replacement for Neymar but Scolari is a huge fan of attacking midfielder Bernard, who could find himself starting his first World Cup game of the tournament. There is also the likelihood of Willian being in contention for a starting berth.
Scolari is playing his cards close to his chest, aware that today’s game is an absolute do-or-die against a difficult opponent.
If the hosts have no room for error, their opponents have perhaps grown tired of becoming the nearly powerhouse of the game. Germany have played in the last four World Cup semi-finals without succeeding in lifting the trophy on each occasion. Joachim Low’s side have retained the Germany efficiency that became the hallmark of World Cup-winning Die Mannschaft, but with an eye-catching passing style.
Their team is laden with midfielders whose chemistry has developed under Low. It doesn’t matter whether Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Toni Kroos is unavailable, their team would be hardly hurt.
Low knew what he precisely wanted when he left all out-and-out strikers home - the only foward who boarded the plane Mirsolav Klose was no doubt selected on the sentiments of his World Cup goal-record pursuit. Matches of this size tend to be decided on the smallest details.
Germany was forced out at the last World Cup by a Carlos Puyol header at the semi-final stage. Likewise Germany are in the semis because of Mats Hummels’ header from a Toni Kroos free kick.
Like Germany, Brazil are a dangerous side from set plays. All their three goals in the knock-out stages have come from set plays. And they were all struck by defenders.
It’s been a World Cup awash with dodgy decisions and the world will be hoping that Mexican Marco Rodriguez, the official who missed Luis Suarez’s biting Giorgio Chiellini, controls the match from the onset.