Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 8, 2014

World Cup semifinal matches are tough to pick

Velazco, Smith offer their predictions


Kokomo Tribune

---- — 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.

SCOTT: As a soccer ref myself, forgive me for putting too much emphasis on the man in the center, but FIFA, which usually screws everything up, pulled a doozy by naming Marco Rodriguez the referee for the Brazil-Germany semifinal.

Rodriguez presided over the Italy-Uruguay hackfest in the group stages, and managed to miss Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini. He called an absurd number of fouls in that game, without ever coming close to getting it under control.

So for Brazil, which has moved on in this tournament by fouling the opposition into submission, the ineffective Rodriguez becomes a powerful ally.

Look for Brazil’s midfield goons, Luis Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho, to foul Germany’s skill players in rotation. The best weapon the Germans have to counter is their lightning passing.

Without Neymar, Brazil becomes even more reliant on brute physicality to compete, so it will be interesting to see if they finish with 11 players on the field. I can’t see them scoring against a disciplined, tactically astute German side.

Tough to call, but I’m going to give this one to Germany, 1-0.

HOLLAND VS. ARGENTINA, WEDNESDAY

PEDRO: I’m torn. For 20 years Holland has been my favorite team to watch as their talented attackers, filled with bravado, punch above their weight on the world stage. But Argentina has Lionel Messi, my favorite player to watch of the last several years and a slippery talent that manages to score or get an assist when Argentina needs it.

Argentina haven’t been nearly as dominant as I thought they could be, but they haven’t given up a goal in the last two games. I can’t see Holland missing all the chances they missed in a scoreless quarterfinal win over Costa Rica. They’ll hit the net once at least, so to get through, Argentina have to either score twice, or win in penalties. Argentina has scored only twice against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Nigeria. Holland wins. Maybe in overtime, or penalties.

SCOTT: Talk about a classic World Cup matchup. This one should be a fantastic game, headlined by the incomparable Argentinian, Messi. Please, please, new American soccer fans, don’t miss the chance to see Messi play in this game.

Now for Holland, Pedro loves them, and for personal reasons, I cannot stand them. The worst of the lot is their winger, Arjen Robben, who brings disgrace to the game every time his diving, cheating, cynical self plays.

So you have the glorious Messi versus Robben, a man with undeniable talent whose dive in injury time propelled the Dutch to an undeserved victory over the valiant Mexicans. I cannot bring myself to pick the Netherlands to win this one, although they well might.

Argentina 2-1, with the winner coming in extra time.

Pedro Velazco may be reached at pedro.velazco@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8572.