Tomorrow Tuesday sees the first semi (Brazil vs Germany), Wednesday the second semi (Holland vs Argentina), then the final next weekend. After watching the run-up to this deciding week and checking the best available odds and prices from the website oddschecker here, what follows are a couple of thoughts and a couple of potential bets.
No beautiful game. The World Cup tends to have the eyepopping games in Group stage, the drama in the KO phase and the final is often a tense but niggly affair. From what I’ve seen of these four teams the matches are set to be tight as drums, exciting in their own way but not about to win over new fans of football.
Germany will beat Brazil. I’ve been unimpressed with Brazil going forward, and that’s against teams with either plain mediocre or reasonable defences. Germany has arguably the best defensive line-up at the tournament, plus (again arguably) the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment in case a hole in the line is found. Without Neymar Brazil will still attack, but their strategy has to turn around 180º for this match (as ex-star Bebeto has noted, Brazil’s three game plans so far have been “give it to Neymar, give it to Neymar and give it to Neymar”) and I don’t see the necessary form in the front line. Brazil will also miss Thiago Silva greatly, who was excellent vs Colombia in the last round but is carded out for tomorrow. Meanwhile, Germany has played in the classic German style and is consistently dangerous up front, it’s a simple game they play but they play it well. Finally, from what I’ve seen Brazil don’t seem to have the necessary mental toughness this time around, with emotions and nerves running in the wrong way and causing the team to lose balance at vital times. This I blame squarely on the manager Scolari, who’s been a hothead all through the process and has little in the way of grace under pressure
Argentina will beat Holland. If there’s one trait that runs through all World Cups, it’s that a team running into form at the right time, going from lesser to greater as the tournament progresses, is the one to fear the most. In 2014 that’s Argentina, who played well in all departments vs Belgium in the last round and as well as having the whole team clicking and working together smoothly have one man on their team who can single-handedly change any match against any team in a matter of seconds. Argentina’s defence has been more solid than anyone expected pre-tourney (that includes goalie Romero), its midfield has arguably the best player of the whole championships so far in Javier Mascherano (NB: not the most decisive or game-determining, as that would probably be Colombia’s James Rodriguez; best player comes from a different set of rules), the front line will certainly miss Angel Di Maria but Gonzalo Higuian has finally come good and was massive in the last match for his whole 80 minutes (not just his goal). Over at Holland, Van Gaal’s job will be to contain the Argentina attack and I think he’ll therefore rely on the danger posed by Robben and Van Persie via counter-attacks. Those two can certainly do damage if given the chance, but if that’s the only attacking outlet, Argentina should have a game-plan ready. Also, one player Holland will definitely miss is the Nigel de Jong, whose absence through injury weakens the midfield. But overall, I haven’t been as impressed by Holland as the other three survivors and I’m sure that if Argentina could have chosen their semi-final rival from the list, they’d have gone for this tie.
No idea for the final. Even if my predictions above work out, the final is just too difficult to call. They tend to be tight and non-spectacular games and toss-ups that hinge on turning point moments and defensive good/bad plays.
A couple of bets. After checking the odds available, the 5/2 (bet 2, win 5, get your stake back as well, total return 7) on a Germany vs Argentina final looks reasonable odds to me. The other bet that catches the eye is the 7/2 (even 4/1 at one bookmaker) that Lionel Messi finishes as top scorer in the championships. With four goals he’s 2 behind Rodriguez, but he has guaranteed two games to play and three goals is well within the range of the possible if he turns it on (I’ve watched him score three in 20 minutes).