Brazil's David Luiz (left) and Germany's Thomas Muller will square off for in the first match of the World Cup semifinals on July 8, 2014 in Brazil.
Almost a month of World Cup soccer action later, and we have a final four: Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and Argentina.
With the July 13 final only days away, Germany and Brazil will take the pitch on Tuesday to find out who will live on, and make a last run for the famous cup. (Argentina and the Netherlands face off on Wednesday.)
In what has been one of the most exciting World Cups to date, this semifinal continues to provide a heap of records.
Germany became the first country to make it to the World Cup semifinals four times in a row — making them arguably one of the most consistent teams in all of soccer. For the first time since 1990, Argentina has managed to make it to the semifinals again. Argentina has also made it to the semifinals with its longstanding rival Brazil for the first time — so there's a chance that both countries will make it to the finals for an epic South American battle.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, there's still one match teeming with drama: a rematch of the 2002 World Cup final in which Brazil bested Germany. In a series of weird and unfortunate events, injuries and suspensions have left Brazil — the host country and favored winner — as the underdog going into its semifinal match against Germany.
Here's what to expect before you watch Tuesday's semifinal showdown:
Brazil vs. Germany, 4 p.m. ET
There's no getting around it: We have to talk about Brazil's Neymar problem.
In Brazil's quarterfinal match against Colombia on Friday, Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zuniga kneed Brazil's golden boy Neymar in the back, and broke his third vertebra. As a result, Neymar's World Cup has been cut short, and he won't be able to play.
What's more, Neymar's not the only player Brazil will be missing on Tuesday. The country will also be without its top defender and captain, Thiago Silva, after he foolishly earned a booking and suspension for this bit of goalie interference:
In a long-shot bid, Brazil tried to appeal Silva's suspension, but FIFA shot that down.
So with a weakened lineup, who will likely fill the Neymar and Thiago-sized holes in Brazil's starting 11? It's expected to be midfielder Willian and defender Dante. Dante is the only player on Brazil's squad that plays in Germany's Bundesliga. With most of Germany's squad coming from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund (top-tier teams in the Bundesliga), Dante's presence in the defensive third should prove helpful in understanding and mitigating the German attack.
If Willian replaces Neymar, which head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari hinted at in training, it's really only a Band-Aid fix — and a poor one at that. Willian is a fantastic player, but he's no Neymar.
At a time when Brazil needs Neymar's fleetness of foot and finesse more than ever — a set of skills that would run circles around Germany's relatively slow defense — there really are no suitable replacements.
As for players who have started throughout Brazil's World Cup run, look to defender David Luiz and midfielder Oscar to take center stage in Neymar's absence. Unlike Hulk or Fred, both Luiz and Oscar have put up stellar performances so far in the tournament, with Luiz proving to be one of Brazil's biggest scoring threats.
In particular, Oscar — who receives very little recognition — has been one of Brazil's most consistent players, creating perfect attacking opportunities for Neymar and others. On a team like Brazil, it's easy to remain hidden under the large shadow Neymar casts. But with Neymar unfortunately sidelined for the rest of the World Cup, it's time for new Brazilian heroes to emerge.
As for Germany, lineup changes are also likely imminent — though much more positive ones. In a pleasant surprise to German fans who had been irritated by coach Joachim Low's insistence on placing a world-class right back Philipp Lahm in a defensive midfielder position, Low changed Germany's starting 11 against France on Friday. Changes included playing Lahm in his natural position, and playing both Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the midfield (the two had been alternating with the one another in previous matches due to both players recovering from injuries).
Expect Low to continue with this lineup. Despite looking a little shaky against France at times — probably due to the players not being 100% comfortable with the lineup — it was ultimately quite strong. Germany was able to continue its ruthless and exacting attack, while neutralizing France's offensive power with huge defensive performances by Lahm, Mats Hummels (who scored an incredible, game-winning header against France) and Manuel Neuer.
Germany will likely continue with its new lineup, as the configuration against France seemed to provide the much-needed defensive strength that allows Germany to control the pitch.
Whatever the lineups may be, in the face of a country's sadness for the loss of a beloved player, Brazil's spirits will be stronger. You can never underestimate the power of a home crowd, especially when it has even more reason to fight.
As an entire country prays for Neymar, a select 11 will be playing for him. Brazil's German opponents feature a formidable and sometimes brilliant ability to execute — one that seems to be only growing as the tournament continues. But maybe spirit and heart will be enough to carry Brazil.
Tags: BRAZIL, ENTERTAINMENT, GERMANY, SOCCER, SPORTS, World Cup