Battle of the big four
Having reached the business end of the 2014 Soccer World Cup,
it appears as if the goals have dried up in Brazil.
Eric Tinkler (Gallo Images)
However, this is by no means an uncommon phenomenon as the
stakes are high and teams naturally tend to be more reserved and less risk-averse. Confidence, discipline, belief and unity become the
markers of success.
Of the four teams that have reached the semi-final stage,
three are previous World Cup-winners, with the Dutch holding the distinction of
having played in and lost three World Cup finals.
The first semi-final features hosts Brazil against Germany,
with the former seeking redemption for World Cup defeat on home soil in 1950.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will be aiming to win his second
World Cup title, but has lost two key players in his starting line-up in the
form of suspended captain Thiago Silva and star forward Neymar, who is out
The Brazilians traditionally play in a 4-2-3-1 formation and
are set to employ the self-same tactics against Germany at the Estadio
Mineirao. While we will more than likely see Dante of Bayern Munich pairing up
with David Luiz in the centre of defence, the big question remains: Who will
replace stricken national hero Neymar?
This will prove a difficult choice for Scolari to make. Does
he go with Bernard, who has similar ability to that of Neymar or does he bring
Willian wide, who is more experienced, and leave Oscar to play behind the
In turn, Joachim Loew is looking to guide “Die Mannschaft” to their fourth World
Cup title. The 54-year-old is an astute tactician. It has been showcased, for
example, in the way in which the Germans prepare for a match and the
substitutions he makes. Loew, like Scolari, favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, which
I believe he will retain.
The Germans are the best team in transition from defence to
attack and are aided by having a fully-fit squad from which to choose.
I firmly believe the first
semi-final will be decided in the midfield. Toni
Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira ran the show against France and
provide a perfect balance of control, energy and defensive diligence.
The key midfield battle will be between Oscar, should he
play behind the main striker, and Schweinsteiger. The latter excelled against France
in a deep-lying midfield role and will need to do much of the same versus
Moving to the second semi-final between the Netherlands and
Argentina at the Arena De Sao Paulo, another intriguing European versus South
American duel will play out.
Louis van Gaal is without a doubt
one of the best coaches in the world. He is a master tactician and knows how to
extract the very best from his group of players, who seem to really enjoy
playing under his mentorship.
Against Spain, the soon-to-be Manchester
United manager opted to utilise a 5-3-2 formation, which shocked many observers
as the Dutch are famous for playing in a 4-3-3 formation. He is not afraid to
buck the trend.
Furthermore, Van Gaal believes in
his players, no more so than Dirk Kuyt, who has played as a left wingback, later
at right back and even as a striker. Then the “Iron Tulip” substitutes his
first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in favour of Tim Krul, who
subsequently makes two match-winning penalty saves against Costa Rica.
Against Argentina, I believe Van
Gaal will retain the 5-3-2 formation and pay particular attention to the
magician that is Lionel Messi. However, his trump card is Arjen Robben, whose acceleration and canny
positioning will test “La Albiceleste” to the full.
Argentina has been my favoured
team to win the World Cup from the offset, however, were not convincing in the
group stage of the competition.
If rumours are to be believed,
manager Alejandro Sabella had a fall out with some of his players, Messi in
particular, and the team swiftly changed from a 5-3-2 formation to a 4-3-3,
with Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain coming into the starting line-up.
This has worked for them up until
now, but the big questions will be around who will replace the injured Angel di
Maria and how Sabella will regain the players’ confidence in him ahead of what
is a very difficult semi-final.
however, have shown that their weakness is in defence and the lack pace from
centre back Ron Vlaar in particular. The Aston Villa skipper will have his work
cut out for him and will need to mark the likes of Messi and Higuain closely.
semi-finals possess match-winners who are capable of moments of brilliance, the
two sides that remain the most focused and make the right decisions will book
their place in the final at the Maracana on Sunday.
Tinkler was capped 48 times for Bafana Bafana. He is currently Orlando Pirates’ assistant coach.
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