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July 8, 2014

World Cup semifinal matches are tough to pick

Velazco, Smith offer their predictions

Brazil has five stars arranged over its crest on its jersey. Germany has three. Argentina two.

The stars represent World Cup championships. Holland has no stars over its crest, but three runner-up finishes and is the best team ever to not win one.

Now, those three heavyweights, and cruiserweight Holland are in the semifinals eyeing a coveted star for their crest. The usual formula for picking winners in the knockout round is which team has been here before and has history on its side. You can’t bank on that anymore. They’ve all got history. They’ve all got a claim to the throne.

Who will win? I have only minor leanings either way. The semifinals are up for grabs with reasonable arguments on either side. I asked former Tribune staffer Scott Smith for his thoughts on the semis, so that perhaps between us the Tribune won’t miss both picks outright.

GERMANY VS. BRAZIL, TODAY

PEDRO: Brazil has the energy of a home crowd, and a lot of question marks. The Brazilians haven’t gotten much of anything from their forwards, and will be without goal-getting attacker Neymar, who is out of action after a dirty collision in a violent game against Colombia left him with a fractured vertebrae. Germany is the least flawed of all the teams left. They do virtually nothing wrong, are mentally tough, and work together well with a core group of Bayern Munich teammates. They’re also the least capable of an exhilarating moment of brilliance.

Everything logical about this matchup points to Germany, yet something about Brazil really stands out. They’re so hard to score on. Their defense is physical, fast, and reads the game well. They win the ball one-on-one, they intercept dangerous passes, they block shots. Against my smarter judgement, I’m picking Brazil to win this by a nose.

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