Another collision between former champions should delight

In a competition that featured many upsets, Brazil against Germany was as predictable a semi-final as you can get but it is only the second time two of the World Cup’s three most successful nations have met, writes Ali Khaled.

The only time Brazil and Germany have met in the World Cup was in 2002 when Ronaldo, left, was the hero. David Cannon / Getty Images
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So it’s down to Brazil, Germany, Holland and Argentina.

As soon as holders Spain became the first team to miss out on the knockout stages, this quartet would have been most people’s choice for the World Cup’s last four.

In a competition that featured many upsets, Brazil against Germany in particular was as predictable a semi-final as you can get.

Except it isn’t.

Tuesday’s match will be only the second time two of the World Cup’s three most successful nations have met in the competition.

Incredibly, considering their records of advancing to the latter stages, the 2002 final in Japan, won 2-0 by Brazil, is their only previous meeting.

Between them, Brazil and Germany have won eight World Cups and finished second six times. They sit first and second in the tables for most games played and most games won.

Here they are again in the semi-finals, Germany’s 12th and Brazil’s seventh.

Their lack of matches against each other seems an anomaly. Germany and France have played six times, and Ghana and the United States have clashed three times, leaving Brazil v Germany the Halley’s Comet of World Cup football.

There is a reason for that.

Both teams consistently are top seeds at the World Cup so avoid each other in the group stages. Invariably, Brazil and Germany win those groups, ensuring they don’t meet in the round of 16, either.

After that, it’s the luck of the draw, and the odds had to balance out at some point.

So Brazil’s record over Germany is a perfect, if misleading, 100 per cent.

As an indicator to the outcome of tomorrow’s semi-final, it’s a flimsy one. Far more telling is that no European team has won a World Cup in the western hemisphere.

And how Brazil have taken advantage of home advantage so far.

The national anthem has been sung with borderline hysteria by the players, the fans and, memorably, by the young Fifa mascots. Matches have been played to the backdrop of deafening noise, never more than against Colombia. Also, referees have been generous, to say the least, towards the home nation.

Yet Luiz Felipe Scolari should be a deeply worried man tonight.

With Neymar out of the tournament, who will score for Brazil?

Whoever replaces him – Jo, Bernard, Willian – will be an inferior substitute. None of Hulk, Fred and Oscar have shown the sort of form that suggests they can fill the Neymar void.

As Brazil’s forwards have struggled, their last three goals have come from set pieces, and all by defenders. One of those, captain Thiago Silva, is suspended for the semi-final, one less weapon they can call upon.

Germany, however, have a not-so-secret weapon they can always count on, and just how Brazil wish they had a player like Thomas Muller, nicknamed “raumdeuter”. Roughly, a “space interpreter”.

His ability to find holes in opposition defences is a talent none of the host nation’s players possess.

Four goals already at Brazil 2014, and nine in two World Cups so far, before this tournament is over he could surpass the 10 goals scored by compatriot Gerd Muller.

The younger man’s level of performance may have dipped slightly in the knockout matches, against Algeria and France, but he could yet be the key man in against Brazil.

Scolari is far too pragmatic to attack with abandon against Germany, and knows Joachim Loew’s midfield can be devastating on the counter-attack. If the reshuffled Brazilian defence leave any spaces at the back, the raumdeuter will pounce.

Whoever wins Tuesday’s clash, the permutations for the final on Sunday are likely to evoke previous World Cups. An all-South-American match-up, like in 1950, is the dream final for many; a Netherlands win over Argentina would give them an opportunity to shake off the tag of “nearly” men after three final defeats; and Germany’s presence would reprise memories of the 1974 final against Johann Cruyff’s Holland, or the 1986 and 1990 clashes with Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

Tuesday’s semi-final, in comparison, remains unburdened by the weight of the past. Whoever emerges victorious will feel that history might just be on their side in the final.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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