It is a shame that the mood ahead of the semifinals has been dampened by the injury to Neymar. With captain Thiago Silva having to sit out due to his second yellow card, Brazil will be missing their two best players against Germany. For once, they appear to be the outsiders, despite home advantage.
The question is whether this might help the Brazilians to free themselves of the immense pressure on them, and play completely liberated, with the reserve players stepping up to show what they can do.
Statistics keepers counted 54 fouls in the Brazil-Colombia match, and many people are upset about this. I see things a bit differently. A quarterfinal match is anything but a polite chat over a cup of coffee. Regrettable as the broken vertebra of Neymar is, I have a hard time accusing Juan Zuniga of doing it intentionally. He did hit Neymar on the back with his knee, but it looked more like clumsiness. Maybe, my first impression is mistaken. Now FIFA is investigating it.
Brazil’s 2-1 win over Colombia was the Selecao’s best match yet. In the games before, there were too many individual actions, and they ran too much with the ball. Against Colombia, they played with more single-minded purpose and combined better in their passing game.
I was thrilled by the Germans 1-0 win against their French neighbours. The Germans were closer to making it 2-0 than the French were at getting the equaliser. Jogi Loew’s team plays cleverly. It does exactly what it needs to do in order to succeed.
For a long time, a debate has been raging as to whether captain Philipp Lahm should return to his normal right fullback position from the No 6 role he has been asked to play in midfield. I don’t think this is so decisive, because when Lahm plays midfield, he is world-class. When he plays defence, he’s also world-class. The same goes for keeper Manuel Neuer. No matter whether he’s playing outside the penalty area, on the goal line, or wherever else, he is the best keeper in the world.
Loew’s timing seems to be near perfect. A good example is seen in Sami Khedira. When he took the field for Real Madrid in the Champions League final at the end of May, he was not in his best form, considering that he was out of action for a torn ligament last November. Now he is back, and in the first knockout match against Algeria he took matters in hand.
Along with Brazil and Germany, we have The Netherlands and Argentina in the other semifinal. Costa Rica were so close to achieving the greatest sensation in decades, with the Dutch going through after a penalty shootout. If Arjen Robben continues to play so brilliantly he and Neuer could be the best players of the World Cup.
Argentina rely heavily on Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, who scored the only goal of the match in the victory over Belgium. Once they score, their philosophy is everybody back in defence. Whether Argentina can beat the Dutch will depend a lot on whether winger Angel di Maria’s muscle injury can heal in time, since he is also a key player.
The writer is a World Cup winning Germany captain and coach