Battle of the big four

2014-07-08 14:43
Eric Tinkler (Gallo Images)
Having reached the business end of the 2014 Soccer World Cup, it appears as if the goals have dried up in Brazil.

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 injured.

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 striker?

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 Brazil.

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.

The Dutch, 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.

While 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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Read more on: swc 2014 eric tinkler soccer

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