The first World Cup semi-final features three-time champions Germany against five-time champions Brazil, in a potentially spectacular encounter. Michael Cox considers the tactical battle, while Alan Thompson provides the betting angle...
"Schweinsteiger struggles in the opening stages of high-tempo matches"
Brazil v Germany
Live on BBC One
Here's one of the strangest World Cup statistics: Germany and Brazil have only met once before in the competition, the 2002 final. Considering no other nations have played as many games in the World Cup as these two, it barely makes sense - but their second meeting should be a fascinating tactical battle.
While Germany have played very neat, technical possession football, Brazil played extremely aggressively in their quarter-final victory over Colombia. This contest is all about which team can impose their own style on the game, particularly in the opening stages - and what will the referee let Brazil get away with?
Both managers have selection dilemmas. Germany boss Jogi Low seems to have assembled his first-choice back four with Philipp Lahm at right-back, and played the midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos for the first time in the victory over France.
Further forward, though, things remain uncertain. Miroslav Klose did OK against France, but it seems more likely Thomas Muller will play as a false nine, with Mario Gotze coming back into the team - or, alternatively, Andre Schurrle on the wing to offer more pace in behind the Brazilian defence. There's no guarantee Mesut Ozil will start, either, after a quiet display against France, and it's difficult to predict Low's approach upfront.
Luiz Felipe Scolari has an even greater problem in the absence of Neymar. He can either summon another attacking midfielder to retain the 4-2-3-1 system, or he could simply recall Luiz Gustavo, suspended against Colombia, and play a 4-3-3 to pack the midfield with aggressive, combative players. A neat compromise, though, would be Ramires - able to play centrally or on the right, he could allow Brazil to switch between the two different systems.
Assuming Brazil play 4-2-3-1, with Oscar brought inside to play as the number ten, the key battle is between the Chelsea playmaker and Schweinsteiger. The Bayern midfielder is handed the task of playing at the bottom of the German midfield trio, starting attacks with cool, clever forward passes.
But whereas the absolute best deep-lying midfielders are capable of playing under pressure, Schweinsteiger can struggle in the opening stages of high-tempo matches, getting caught in possession and playing poor, misplaced passes.
Oscar can be a gifted creator, but his first impressive display in European football was a brilliant man-marking job on Andrea Pirlo for Chelsea against Juventus, in a game where he also scored two fine goals, and it's that defensive diligence that will be most useful for Brazil in this match.
If Oscar can get into Schweinsteiger's face, forcing him to play hurried passes, maybe fouling him a couple of times, Germany could struggle to get into their rhythm. His midfield colleagues can back up behind with good pressure on Kroos and Khedira, and could put Brazil on the front foot and cause Schweinsteiger problems. I'll back Schweinsteiger to be shown a card at [4.5].
Germany will probably attempt to get around this problem by bringing Ozil and Gotze, should they start, into deep, central positions to help win the midfield battle - with Muller dropping back from a false nine role to help out, too. The game is all about tempo and feel: Germany will want a very slow, patient passing game, while Brazil want frenetic tackling and quick turnovers. In some ways, it's something of a role reversal compared to the usual stereotypes.
The odds for this game are extraordinary - with both sides currently trading at extremely similar prices, around [2.84] for both to win in 90 minutes. Germany are deemed the slight favourites in the To Qualify market at [1.97], presumably considering their traditional penalty expertise.
This is an extremely evenly balanced match, and it's difficult to have a particularly strong feeling about either side. I'll instead look at individual player markets - and in addition to the earlier Schweinsteiger bet, how about a dip into the First Goalscorer market?
Both sides' opener in their respective quarter-final matches was a centre-back scoring from a set-piece, and the knockout matches in general have been increasingly tight in open play. I'll back Dante, in for the suspended Thiago Silva, to open the scoring at [50.0].
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
Despite the squad issues for Brazil, I was pleasantly surprised to see the market struggling to find a favourite. For me the only reason Brazil’s price is level with Germany is home advantage, on a neutral pitch, I would expect Germany to be favourites. However, such is the pressure on the host nations in this competition only one has made it past the semi-final stage since 1978 (eight tournaments) – France, who went on to win in 1998.
I fear for Brazil without Neymar and inspirational captain Thiago Silva. Even with a full strength squad they have conceded four goals against Croatia, Cameroon, Chile & Colombia; their only clean sheet came from the 0-0 draw against Mexico.
While the Germans have only conceded one goal less than Brazil, they have kept four clean sheets (in normal time), the only game they failed to keep a clean sheet was against Ghana in the group stages which finished 2-2 (their third conceded goal was in extra time against Algeria).
While the German’s themselves haven’t exactly been impressive, they have done just what they needed to do to get through each of their games. Perhaps the “flu” epidemic that reportedly swept through the camp has hampered them a bit and they are yet to show their full potential – which can only be more bad news for Brazil.
I will be backing Germany to reach their eighth World Cup final at 2.84 in the Match Odds market. I also think that without Thiago Silva organising the Brazilian defence there could be opportunities for Germany from set pieces.
I will take a chance on Mats Hummels getting his third goal of the tournament from another quality Toni Kroos delivery, just as he did against France and Portugal, by backing him to score anytime @ 15.0.