Liam Hoden’s World Cup Watch: The Fantastic Four

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The World Cup ends this week. Just let that thought sink in.

After 26 days have passed by in quick time, just five remain before we leave Brazil behind.

No more will we hear ‘BRAA-ZEEL, BRAA-ZEEL’ floating gently out of our television speakers.

It’s been brilliant. It’s been emotional. It’s been everything you’d want from a Brazilian World Cup.

But there remains a hurdle to cross if this is going to be a truly memorable tournament.

For all the brilliance of the group stages, the knockouts have been thrilling only in patches.

The attacking football and equally exciting poor defending has dissolved into a series of low scoring wars of attrition.

Games have only really come into life late on, though often this has more than made up for the 80 minutes or so which have preceded.

A couple of enthralling and exciting semi-finals would really cement this as one of the best World Cups of all time.

The four nations making up the semi-final stage are more than capable of providing that spark to reignite the competition. They should certainly bring the drama.

Brazil and Argentina will be favoured, despite failing to provide the destructive thrills their respective opponents have managed at certain points during the tournament.

Questions have been asked of all four. If one of them can find their best over the next few days, they should find the door to the trophy room opened to them.

SEMI-FINAL 1: TUESDAY, JULY 8, 9PM

Brazil v Germany, Belo Horizonte

If the weight of expectation wasn’t enough, Brazil now have to face the final two tasks without their main man.

The loss of Neymar to a back injury is a massive blow not only to the host nation’s chances, but the remaining days of the tournament as well.

He might not have taken each game by the scruff of the neck as expected, but there have been moments of real brilliance from Neymar.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how Brazil adjust to his absence. Much of their play has been about being incredibly resolute and allowing Neymar to do the real damage.

With the demand for the victory so strong, will nerves take over and see them sit firmly on the back foot for much of the game?

Germany are in the unfamiliar position of having expectation lifted from their shoulders.

Though the bookies don’t seem to think so, they are the underdogs in this clash, though there would be few surprises if they pulled off the victory.

Ruthless efficiency has been the name of the game for Germany so far. They did a cracking job against France – the early goal allowing them to shut the French out.

There is an intriguing subtext to the game surrounding Miroslav Klose.

How much will the Brazilian’s want to stop Klose from breaking Ronaldo’s World Cup goalscoring record?

A win for Germany and a goal from Klose would be one of the biggest slaps in the face an opposition team could provide the hosts.

Team news

Neymar’s tournament-ending back injury will force a reshuffle in the Brazil side with Luiz Felipe Scolari set to decide between a central midfield three or a direct attacking replacement. Thiago Silva is banned for the hosts with Dante poised to come in while Luis Gustavo will return from suspension. Germany have no reported injury concerns but Per Mertesacker may earn a recall after sitting out the France game.

Betting

Brazil 7/4 Draw 9/4 Germany 2/1