Holland vs Argentina World Cup Semifinal Preview

FIFA World Cup

There is no shortage of history between Holland and Argentina when it comes to the World Cup. The two countries met in the 1978 final in Buenos Aires, where the hosts emerged with  3-1 triumph, and their first World Cup title.

 

20 years later in Marseille, Holland got their revenge, scoring a 2-1 victory thanks to one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup, scored by Dennis Bergkamp.

In total, Holland and Argentina have met four times on the biggest stage, with the Dutch holding a 2-1-1 advantage over their South American counterparts. Their last meeting was a dreary affair in 2006 that ended in a 0-0 draw.

Both sides have injury issues to deal with. Argentina will be without Angel di Maria who suffered a thigh injury in Argentina’s quarterfinal victory over Belgium. Holland will be without defender Ron Vlaar who picked up knee knock in Holland’s quarterfinal fixture against Costa Rica. The Dutch could also be without Robin van Persie, who is listed as questionable with a stomach injury.  However, Holland could see the return of midfielder Nigel de Jong, who has missed the quarterfinal against Costa Rica with a groin injury.

Arjen Robben

The Dutch have lined up in a 4-3-3 throughout the tournament, except in the quarterfinals when they went with three at the back. Expect the Dutch to revert to a 4-3-3 to defend Argentina’s attack. Arjen Robben has been a target of much hatred throughout the tournament. The Bayern Munich winger is a highly skilled player who does have three goals in the tournament. But his diving and theatrics have taken most of the spotlight. Robben can antagonize his opponents with his drama, or use his pace to go by defenders. Both have worked and both are a reason why Holland are in the final four.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar

If van Persie can’t play, expect Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to go into the striker role. The Schalke forward does have one of the biggest goals for Holland, as his penalty conversion gave the Dutch the victory over Mexico. Memphis Depay could start, but he struggled against Costa Rica. The PSV Eindhoven winger might be better served coming off the bench. Dirk Kuyt is another option on the frontline, though he is more comfortable at midfield.

Wesley Sneijder

Wesley Sneijder has had moments of brilliance, as well as moments of calamity in the midfield. Sneijder’s smashing strike against Mexico, was the impetus the Dutch needed in the Round of 16. But he missed several glorious scoring opportunities against Costa Rica that nearly cost the Dutch. Sneijder will need to be in top form against Argentina. The rest of the midfield is in a state of flux. Will Kuyt remain on the right side? Will Depay drop back? Will Georginio Wijnaldum retain his starting role? Could Jeremain Lens be inserted into the team sheet? Many questions but no answers as of yet.

Daley Blind

If the Dutch use four at the back, Daley Blind will return to his left-back role. The Ajax star was used in a holding midfielder role against Costa Rica, with the green light to go into overlapping runs when he saw fit. Blind will be more cautious against an Argentina side that will take advantage of holes left by out of position wing-backs. With Vlaar absent, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij should be the centre backs. They will have their hands full as Lionel Messi will be circling around the penalty area. Paul Verhaegh is the likely right back.

Jasper Cillessen

Jasper Cillessen wasn’t pleased that he was substituted for Tim Krul right before the penalty shootout. Cillessen threw a temper tantrum on the bench after he was removed from the game by Louis van Gaal. The Ajax keeper will start between the sticks, but focus will be a concern.

Argentina have used various formations throughout the tournament, including going five at the back. The most tactical side in South America won’t show their hand immediately against Holland, but when they do,  it could set the course for what type of game will be played.

Lionel Messi

Whatever they use, Lionel Messi is the engine that drives La Albiceleste. The Barcelona superstar has been brilliant at this World Cup, scoring three times while setting up the vital goals in Argentina’s two knockout round victories. There isn’t much else to say about Messi other than he is quite possibly, the best player in the world.

Gonzalo Higuain

 

Gonzalo Higuain scored the lone goal against Belgium and he will need to support Messi if Argentina are to see the final. Higuain can be brilliant, like he was against Belgium, or he can be invisible, like he has been for most of the tournament.

Javier Mascherano

The midfield has been pragmatic, resourceful and at times cynical throughout the tournament. Javier Mascherano is the most cynical of the midfielders. Mascherano isn’t afraid to make the harsh challenge or get into the face of his opponent. Expect the Barcelona midfielder to challenge Robben at every waking turn.

More is expected out of Ezequiel Lavezzi. The Paris Saint-Germain winger has been wasteful at this World Cup, since coming on to replace the injured Sergio Aguero. If Lavezzi doesn’t wake up from his slumber, Argentina may not see the final. Fernando Gago, Enzo Perez and Lucas Biglia are options at the centre of the pitch.

Marcos Rojo

The back line will welcome the return of Marcos Rojo. The Sporting Lisbon left back has been excellent throughout the tournament, but missed the quarterfinal fixture against Belgium due to suspension. Rojo could match up with Robben when the Dutch winger veers towards the right flank. Rojo isn’t afraid of making a harsh tackle so Robben should take haste if he does go onto Rojo’s side.

Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay are strong centre backs who will face their stiffest challenge against the Dutch. Neither are mobile, but they are stern defenders who will guard the penalty area like a fortress.

Pablo Zabaleta is the likely right back. The Manchester City defender does struggle with pace, but has been positionally sound for Argentina. He isn’t flashy, but he is a workmanlike defender who won’t stray from his duties.

Sergio Romero

Sergio Romero has been solid between the sticks for Argentina. The Monaco keeper has recorded consecutive clean sheets in the knockout phase. Romero wasn’t tested much, but that will change with the Dutch charging through.

Prediction:

This is a tough call. I’ve wavered on this one since this fixture was confirmed. Both teams have fitness issues and lineups won’t be confirmed until game time. This leaves questions in terms of tactics. What will each team do and how do they counteract what the other is doing? This could mean another chess match like in 2006, but with more on the line, I think both teams will push forward to a certain degree. It will be tight and tense. I’m calling penalties. Holland sneaks through and goes to the Final. Call it a hunch and nothing more. And no, I’m not taking bets on this one.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil vs Germany World Cup Semifinal Preview

FIFA World Cup

Despite the many surprise results that have dominated the discussion at the World Cup, the semifinals are left to the heavyweights of the sport. And make no doubt of it, Brazil and Germany are two of the absolute heavyweights, soccer has to offer. A combined 8 World Cups between the two. Two of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. All in all, Brazil and Germany are the gold standard in world football.

Despite the rich pedigrees these two sides have, they have only met once in World Cup history. The 2002 final in Yokahama. Ronaldo’s brace gave Brazil a 2-0 victory on that fateful day. Germany were shorthanded, as star midfielder Michael Ballack missed the final due to suspension.

The X-ray that shows the fractured vertebrae in Neymar's back.

The X-ray that shows the fractured vertebrae in Neymar’s back.

This semifinal has the tables turned as Brazil won’t be able to field their strongest lineup. Star forward Neymar has been ruled out of the tournament with a fractured vertebrae in his back. La Selecao will also have centre back Thiago Silva absent, as he picked up his second yellow card in the quarterfinals, following a needless challenge.

These missing pieces will give Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari plenty to think about. How will he replace both Neymar and Silva? And what formation will Big Phil favour? These questions have yet to be answered.

Fred

One thing is certain, Fred will be up front for Brazil. The Fluminense striker is a favourite of Scolari’s, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Fred only has one goal in the tournament so far, despite having many glorious scoring opportunities. Fred will have to raise his game, as someone will need to pick up the slack due to Neymar’s absence.

Hulk

Hulk has been a driving force for Brazil. The Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder has made many challenging runs through the midfield, and has been a force throughout the tournament. However, Hulk has yet to score at this World Cup, and Brazil will be goal challenged. It could be now or never for Hulk to open his World Cup account.

Oscar

Oscar was terrific in Brazil’s opening match against Croatia, but his role has been somewhat reduced since. The Chelsea midfielder has been playing deeper in the midfield than he is accustomed to. Expect Oscar to be a little more enterprising against Germany to help bolster Brazil’s attack.

Fernandinho

Fernandinho has been solid when called upon. The Manchester City midfielder does have a goal to his credit, while being a smart, effective player at the centre of the pitch. Brazil will have Luiz Gustavo back in the lineup. The Wolfsburg holding midfielder will return from his suspension and should bring some solidarity at the centre of the pitch.

David Luiz

With Silva being absent, the back will see a change. Joining David Luiz at centre back should be Dante. The Bayern Munich defender had an excellent season for the Bundesliga champions, but he only has 2 International caps to his credit. How he handles the pressure, could be the key to Brazil’s success or failure. Dante does know the German team well, so this should be a fascinating matchup. Luiz has scored twice for Brazil, but he has been caught going forward on occasion. The Paris Saint-Germain defender will have to be disciplined against an opportunistic German side.

Marcelo

Marcelo should start at left back, but he has laboured at times. The Real Madrid defender has been shaky on handling crosses, as well as being overrun by attacking wingers. Maicon should start ahead of Dani Alves at right back. Alves has been ineffective on the right side, while Maicon showed steadiness in Brazil’s quarterfinal victory over Colombia.

Julio Cesar

Julio Cesar has enjoyed a big of a renaissance for Brazil. The Toronto FC keeper has come up with some huge saves in key moments, including three saves in the penalty shootout against Chile. Cesar will have to be at the top of his game, for Brazil to see the final.

Philipp Lahm

Germany manager Joachim Low made a vital tactical change ahead of their quarterfinal fixture against France, by moving Philipp Lahm to his favoured right-back position. The move paid off as Lahm was a force in preventing any attacks at his side, while providing overlapping runs along the flank. Lahm could find some joy against Marcelo and whomever Brazil will move to the left side, most likely Gustavo.

Mats Hummels

The rest of the back four should remain intact from the quarterfinal. Mats Hummels was named Man of the Match against France, for his strong defending, and scoring the only goal of the match. Jerome Boateng should be Hummels partner in the middle. Benedikt Howedes is the likely left-back.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

There are still questions about Bastian Schweinsteiger’s fitness. The Bayern Munich midfielder is still nursing a nagging knee injury, but has been able to fight through the pain. Brazil will target Schweinsteiger whenever he touches the ball, which could result in some nastiness. Sami Khedira is likely to join Schweinsteiger as a deep lying midfielder.

Thomas Muller

Thomas Muller does lead Die Mannschaft with 4 goals in the competition, but the Bayern Munich midfielder/forward has yet to score in the knockout phase of the tournament. However, it would be folly to suggest that Muller’s struggles will last forever. Toni Kroos has been steady, but the Bayern Munich midfielder has yet to score in this tournament. Low has used Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze in this tournament. All three have shown flashes of greatness, but they have been inconsistent. Lukas Poldoski and Julian Draxler are options off the bench.

Miroslav Klose

Will Miroslav Klose break Ronaldo’s record for most goals scored at the World Cup? Will Klose even be on the team sheet? The Lazio striker only needs one more goal to set the new record, but if Low goes to a 4-3-3 formation, Klose may be sitting on the bench. It could be advantageous for Germany for Klose to sit and wait and only use him if necessary. But if a goal is needed, Klose could be the man to provide the finishing touch.

Neuer save

In a previous blog, I mentioned that Manuel Neuer was struggling in net. How wrong I was. The Bayern Munich keeper just might be the best goalie at the World Cup, and is now in the discussion for best keeper on the planet. His incredible one-handed save of Karim Benzema in the quarterfinals is one for the ages, as it shows Neuer’s strength and composure.

Prediction:

Don’t expect plenty of goals in this fixture. Both teams will play it cautious and even be somewhat cynical in their approach. Neither side wants to make the big mistake that costs them a shot at the World Cup. The difference here is fitness and discipline. Germany are relatively healthy and have no suspensions to deal with. The loss of Neymar is potentially devastating for Brazil as the Barcelona forward is the engine that drives the Samba Boys. How will Dante cope in place of Thiago Silva in the central defence is also key for Brazil. On top of that, both of Brazil’s goals against Colombia were on set-pieces. Germany are excellent at defending set-pieces. With Neuer a fortress in net, Brazil will have a hard time finding goals. With that said, I have Germany winning 1-0, and advancing to the World Cup Final on Sunday.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

France vs Germany World Cup Quarterfinal Preview

FIFA World Cup

France vs Germany. The history between these two nations is endless. Much of it is unpleasant to say the least. Of course, there is World War II, which saw the two nations and their respective allies fought a brutal, savage war that lasted six years, and millions of lives lost.

The 1982 semifinal in no way compares to the horrors of WWII, but it did intensify feelings and emotions between the two nations. The bad blood rose on the soccer pitch in Seville, when West German keeper Harald Schumacher flattened French defender Patrick Battiston with a crushing blow, as both men were going for a loose ball. Many observers thought that Schumacher deliberately tried to injure Battiston and thought the keeper should have been shown a red card. But the Dutch referee thought otherwise and didn’t call a foul. West Germany went on to win the match on penalties. France were furious. Battiston went to the hospital with a broken jaw and a concussion.

The two countries will renew acquaintances at the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio to see who will go the semifinals at the 2014 World Cup.

After topping Group E, France weren’t impressive, but did enough to defeat an uninspired Nigeria side in the Round of 16. Germany needed extra time to defeat Algeria in a cagey affair that disappointed the neutrals.

The French have lined up in a 4-3-3 formation throughout the tournament with success. Don’t expect a change from Didier Deschamps.

Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena are expected to be the starting front line. Benzema leads Les Bleus with three goals at this World Cup, but missed some glorious scoring chances against Nigeria. The Real Madrid forward will need to be more clinical around the penalty area. Giroud has struggled in this World Cup with his stamina and quality. It is possible that Antoine Griezmann could make the team sheet ahead of the Arsenal man. Valbuena was impressive against Nigeria with his pace causing difficulty for Nigerian defenders.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba was named Man Of The Match against Nigeria, and the award was deserved. The Juventus midfielder scored the first goal and was a creative, dynamic force for the full 90 minutes. Blaise Matuidi was pragmatic and effective against Nigeria, but he will have to provide a moment or two of brilliance against Germany. Yohan Cabaye will lay back and keep an eye on Thomas Muller in the middle.

Patrice Evra

The back four will have its sternest challenge in this tournament. Left back Patrice Evra laboured against Nigeria, as the ManchesterUnited defender lacked pace and form. The likes of Muller and Andre Schurrle could find joy along the right flank if Evra struggles again. Raphael Varane suffered a hamstring knock, but should be ready for the Germans. Laurent Koscielny was excellent against Nigeria, and will need to stay on form. Mathieu Debuchy is a rising star at left back.

Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris hasn’t been busy at this World Cup, but that should change against Germany. The Tottenham keeper will face an onslaught like he hasn’t seen so far, and he must be at his best for France to advance.

If France goes 4-3-3, expect Germany to do the same and go toe-to-toe. Joachim Low won’t be afraid to match up, knowing he can match up with anybody in the world.

Thomas Muller

Thomas Muller was mentioned earlier and with good reason. The Bayern Munich forward leads Die Mannschaft with four goals in the competition but was off-target against Algeria. Andre Schurrle showed more pace than Mesut Ozil against Algeria, so expect the Chelsea forward to be placed on the team sheet, on Muller’s right side. Mario Gotze has been somewhat disappointing for Germany, but he is capable of raising his game to another level.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

The fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger is always a concern. The Bayern Munich midfielder is nursing a nagging knee injury that simply won’t go away. Schweinsteiger is expected to start, but how long he can go is a big question in this match. Toni Kroos is expected to start along the left side.

Philipp Lahm

Many German supporters want Philipp Lahm to start at full-back but the German captain is expected to be in the central midfield spot he has patrolled at this World Cup. Lahm is the most versatile player on this German team, and with the return of Mats Hummels to the starting eleven, Lahm will stay in the midfield.

Mats Hummels

Speaking of Hummels, the Borussia Dortmund central defender is expected to move to right back as Shkodran Mustafi tore his hamstring against Algeria, and will miss the rest of the tournament. Benedikt Howedes should start at left back. Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng should be the centre backs. All four will have to be at their best against a unified French side.

Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer has been slightly shaky between the sticks. The Bayern Munich keeper hasn’t been at his absolute best and if his struggles continue, Germany could be in trouble.

Prediction:

The pressure is on Germany to win. Many in the German media are expecting a fourth World Cup for Deutschland and anything less is unacceptable. The French are a younger team that wasn’t expected to win the tournament. Germany could take advantage of an ailing French back four, who are struggling with injuries and inconsistency. France are a cohesive unit, but this particular unit have never been in a pressure cooker like the World Cup quarterfinals. Germany usually rises when the pressure mounts and they will do so again. It won’t be easy, but Germany wins 2-1, and they will advance to the semifinals.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments