The semifinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup begin on Tuesday with hosts Brazil facing Germany in Belo Horizonte. These two faced off in the 2002 final in Yokohama, Japan with the Selecao winning 2-0. The Germans will try to gain a measure of revenge from that heartbreaking defeat.
Here are four keys to the game on Day 22…
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Who will replace Neymar?
Brazil advanced to the semis past Colombia, but they suffered a devastating blow when the Neymar was ruled out of the World Cup with a back injury. Now manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has to make the toughest decision in his second stint with the national team—who to start in Neymar’s place?
Willian is one option, but a better one would be Bernard. The diminutive winger would be a terrific replacement for Neymar. He’s a quick, tricky dribbler that’s capable of creating several chances and scoring some of his own.
When the 21-year-old was at Atletico Mineiro, he was one of their best players. In the 2012 Brasileiro season, Bernard scored 11 goals in 36 matches, and then followed that up with four goals in 11 Copa Libertadores games as the Gaylo won the 2013 tournament.
Bernard is capable of replicating those kinds of performances. It would be extra special for him to start in his hometown in a World Cup semifinal in front of his old fans.
Maicon or Dani Alves?
Brazil will be without captain Thiago Silva in the centre of the defence due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Bayern Munich’s Dante is the expected replacement. However, another question for the Brazilian backline is at right back.
Maicon started over Dani Alves against Colombia and it ended up being a terrific move by Scolari. Alves has been caught out of position many times and as a result, he’s been rightfully blamed for some of the goals that Brazil has conceded.
With Maicon on the right side, it was noticeably different. The Roma fullback completed two tackles and three interceptions, showing that he was defensively responsible, but was still able to contribute going forward as he always does.
Surely Maicon has done enough to start again. He was in fine form with the Giallorossi in Serie A this past season as he rekindled his old Inter performances from when they won the treble. The 32-year-old would be a wiser choice over Alves at this stage, especially with Germany’s potent attack coming at them.
Germany has to run at Brazil’s defence
All of the changes at the back for Brazil will obviously benefit Germany. Dante has been fantastic for Bayern Munich since he arrived in 2012, but towards the latter half of the European campaign this year, he struggled to cope with quick movements on the ground.
Part of that had to do with playing next to a slow partner in Jerome Boateng, so David Luiz could help out more in that regard, But still, Dante could face up to seven of his Bayern teammates, and Thomas Muller will undoubtedly use his knowledge of Dante’s weaknesses to the Germans’ advantage.
Dante hasn’t started a match and won’t be in sync with his teammates on the pitch, so if Germany were smart, they’d target the 30-year-old and frustrate him early.
More from Mesut Ozil
Despite a strong opening game versus Portugal, Mesut Ozil has still disappointed at the World Cup. He’s a far cry from his 2010 performances, which eventually earned him a move to Real Madrid.
When Ozil played against France, he was taken off after 83 minutes and was noticeably tired. That’s because he has low stamina and very rarely completes a full match. Regardless, he’s been poor even when he’s fresh earlier on in the affair.
Ozil recorded zero shots, created just one scoring chance, and turned over the ball twice versus the French. More has to come from him as the atmosphere will be electric and it’ll obviously be a big occasion. Germany have traditionally underwhelmed in the latter stages of major tournaments recently. In order to avoid that, they need the full efforts of every player, and that includes Ozil.