Soccer

Jack: On a German spine and Neymar no longer carrying Brazil

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Kristian Jack
7/4/2014 8:55:58 PM
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Day 23 in 100 words or less

It was a day for central defenders and set-piece goals. Time to go through the motions and squeeze out a victory had passed. It was a day for the serious World Cup contenders to step up and show us what they had. Brazil and Germany, with eight World Cups between them, did just that and now meet each other in Tuesday's semifinal.

Germany 1-0 France

Twenty years ago next week Germany were almost there. 

Just after 1:30pm in the afternoon, inside the blistering heat of Giants Stadium, New Jersey, the Germans led 1-0 in a World Cup quarterfinal against Bulgaria with 15 minutes left in the match.

The reigning World Champions were about to become the first ever country to reach four straight World Cup semifinals. 

Bulgaria suddenly scored two goals in three minutes and in a New York minute the Germans were going home. The football world was stunned.

No one since has made the final four of the World Cup four times in a row.

Until today.

Fittingly, it was Germany again, playing on another hot afternoon, and up a goal on their opponents.

This time, though, there was no meltdown in the heat. 

Joachim Low's team haven't been near their best in Brazil since a blistering opening 30 minutes against Portugal but this was their best showing since that showing in Salvador 18 days ago. 

It was a statement of intent from Low's side. A statement that they can win games in such a manner. 

"You are not only the best side in the world, you are the best side I have ever seen."

That is what Low said to Xavi after Spain had defeated his German team in the semifinal four years ago.

Spain won 1-0 that day, through a headed goal, scored by a centre-back from a set-piece.

Low, then, will surely have been thinking about that when his team beat France the same way. 

Goalscorer Mats Hummels had a wonderful match. He would have been man of the match even if Germany's goal had been scored by someone else. 

Behind him, Manuel Neuer, earning his 50th cap, was also impressive again, making two outstanding saves, with one denying Karim Benzema in the final moments. 

Philipp Lahm at right back wasn't anywhere near his best but his positioning made sense for the collective balance of the side.

That's because it allowed Sami Khedira to come into midfield and he made a big difference. The Real Madrid man is clearly still not at his peak after a long layoff through injury but his penetrating runs into space makes Germany more flexible in attack and, subsequently, harder to defend against. 

With Thomas Muller still a menace in attack, either on the right or central, all of this means Low is building a side with a strong spine.

You do not need to have 11 players all at the top of their game to win a World Cup. This is good news for Mesut Ozil and whoever plays alongside him and Muller. 

Ozil is clearly struggling inside this system but with other players excelling it is not as vital. Low's mind will be full of exceptional memories of Ozil performing brilliantly at the last two major tournaments. He remains good at spatial awareness and in possession when given outlets close by. However, he is far from at his best and his reputation as a player who needs a lot of love shows he is incredibly low on confidence. 

He is, however, like all of his teammates, just two wins away from being a world champion. 

France go home with their heads held high and will be a force on home soil at Euro 2016. The Champions League has been a wonderful stage for many to show they can compete at a high level, while Ligue 1 continues to produce some sensational young players not even seen in Brazil.

For those who were in Brazil, this tournament, unlike the past two, will have provided them a lot of good lessons in cohesion both on and off the field. Didier Deschamps deserves a lot of credit for turning Les Bleus into a team their nation loves once again, just nine months after many couldn't stand them anymore. 

Brazil 2-1 Colombia

Where do we start?

Here is what we DO know:

    Brazil scored two goals via set pieces and now have only scored two goals from open play in four games against Croatia, Mexico, Chile and Colombia at this World Cup. Games against Cameroon should not count when evaluating their attack.

    The game was very physical. The ref was very average.

    If you followed the match on Twitter there is a good chance that you think Brazil were very, very fortunate.

    Colombia, however, did very little in the match until going down 2-0. Brazil's intensity early in the match was unlike anything we have seen from the hosts so far and, James Rodriguez aside, Jose Pekerman's team look like a side that is only good enough to reach the last eight.

    Thiago Silva was absolutely magnificent in defence. His suspension for the game against Germany is enormous.

    James Rodriguez got even better, despite the loss. He was a marked man and on a completely different level than his teammates yet he was still sensational, finding space and creating goal-scoring opportunities. He deserved his sixth goal of the World Cup.

    We bid farewell to Colombia. They played a wonderful part in making this a special World Cup and gave us the true star of this tournament. However, on this night, the rest of the team was shown to be what they are. Juan Cuadrado is very good and had a great tournament but the rest were just good. Good enough to take Colombia to the last eight for the first time.

    It appears as this column goes to press that Neymar is out of the World Cup.  

Here is what we do NOT know:

    How good are Brazil? This is the biggest question going forward. 

    Despite getting by two good sides they look very average relying on Neymar's pace and creativity in the final third.

    Without Neymar, they have no real plan B in attack. Even when they are scoring, he is the one creating them.

    Neymar's speed again made a massive difference. You will remember David Luiz's goal against Chile but moments earlier it was Neymar whose run got Brazil into that territory.

    They will miss many things without Neymar but his pace on counters is one the biggest things.

    Here is a shot of how Brazil lined up in that game. You will see the ball is on the right as #7 Hulk defends his flank. Already Neymar is anticipating a quick counter, wanting to go to the left….

    Once that counter happens he is away to press….

    Then he wins the ball and is behind the defender….

    Here is the build up to the corner won by Brazil that led to their opening goal. Colombia in possession with Neymar lurking and Cristian Zapata deep to deal with his speed…..

    Brazil win it back and transition with Neymar immediately heading into that zone once again…

    Neymar is now in possession and Zapata is losing the race despite the head start…

    Zapata must force it into a corner – out of nothing and all because of the quick counter made by Neymar…

    Neymar has carried this team on his back so far and now that back can not carry the nation any more.  

Man of the day

Nominees

David Luiz – a sensational free kick gave Brazil the moment of the World Cup so far.

Thiago Silva – opened the scoring with a key early goal and was magnificent in defence throughout.

James Rodriguez – His name is James. James Rodriguez. No one should ever mispronounce his name ever again. A global star was born in Brazil.

Manuel Neuer – the German goalkeeper was, once again, commanding in goal on the big occasion. Got his 50th cap against France and another 50 will be on their way.

Mats Hummels – Germany needed a defensive hero very badly and the Borussia Dortmund man returned from the flu to win the game for Joachim Low's side.

The winner…

David Luiz – He may not have been the best player on the field but it was very special for a Brazilian to score a 35 yard free kick with the SIDE of his foot in such a monumental match.

What comes next?

Argentina vs Belgium (12pm/9am) and Netherlands vs Costa Rica (4pm/1pm)

Burning question for tomorrow

Argentina have gone through this World Cup with one great player and ten average ones. Can one player step up from average to good to help Lionel Messi and dispose of Belgium?

Key stat of day 23

Mats Hummels scored the 30th headed goal at the World Cup.

German players celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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