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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 23 November, 2014

What are Brazil’s chances of winning the World Cup?

Luis Felipe Scolari’s side play Germany in the first semi-final tomorrow.

Brazil have reached the semi-finals despite some underwhelming performances.
Brazil have reached the semi-finals despite some underwhelming performances.

How many times have they won it before? Five times (more than anyone else) — in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They have also been runners-up twice, in 1998 and the last time the tournament was in Brazil in 1950.

Predicted starting lineup v Germany

(4-2-3-1) Cesar; Maicon, Luiz, Dante, Marcelo; Luis Gustavo, Fernandinho; Hulk, Oscar, Willian; Fred.

Random fact

Despite appearing in 20 semi-finals between them, this is just the second time Brazil and Germany have met in the World Cup — the first being the 2002 World Cup final, which Brazil won 2-0.

What are their strengths?

After looking somewhat panicky in their opening game with Croatia, their defence has looked increasingly impressive at this tournament, having conceded just four goals so far, with only Germany boasting a superior record at the back. Nevertheless, their preparation has been severely disrupted by Thiago Silva’s enforced absence through suspension — the 29-year-old PSG defender is hailed by many critics as the best centre-back in the world. Yet in Dante, they have a capable replacement. The 30-year-old is not short of big-game experience, given that he’s been a regular for Bayern Munich over the past few seasons, and recently signed a contract extension to keep him at the club until 2017.

Elsewhere in their team, Oscar is possibly one of the most underrated players at this tournament, and has looked impressive at times in recent weeks. For an attacking midfielder, he is extremely adept defensively — one of the reasons Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho preferred using him over more eye-catching players like Juan Mata last season. He also invariably shows intelligent movement and in the absence of Neymar, is probably Brazil’s most technically accomplished player, and even his goalscoring record is highly respectable at international level (10 in 36 appearances).

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Colombia

Source: Manu Fernandez

(Oscar is one of the tournament’s more underrated players)

And finally, Brazil’s holding midfielders, while offering little in the way of creativity, invariably seem effective in the clearly-defined roles delegated to them, whether he goes with Paulinho, Luis Gustavo or Fernandinho. The latter in particular was dominant in the Colombia game — his persistent fouling won’t have won him any fans, though he was undeniably effective in breaking up the play and combating the threat of James Rodriguez among others. Yet against Germany, he faces an even bigger test, as the Brazilians have yet to come up against a midfield as talented as Joachim Löw’s side’s quintet.

What are their weaknesses?

Brazil’s main problem ahead of this game is obvious — their talisman Neymar has been ruled out of the tournament with a back injury (although there have been whispers he could risk aggravating the injury and play should the Brazilians reach the final)

In his absence, Brazil will probably opt for Chelsea’s Willian. Like Neymar, he possesses an admirable work-rate and considerable technical ability, though he is far less of a goal threat than the Barca striker — he managed just four in 25 appearances for Chelsea last season, and has scored just twice for Brazil (albeit in only 10 appearances). Yet while he is undoubtedly an inferior substitute for Neymar when it comes to attacking flair, he at least has an occasional penchant for producing spectacular moments (see below).


And Brazil will be hoping players such as Willian and Oscar can come up with something ingenious, as otherwise, their best chance of a goal may be from a set piece.

They are conspicuously limited in attack, with Fred and Hulk better known for hard work off the ball than creative brilliance. The pair, while having respectable scoring records at club level, have been disappointing in front of goal at this tournament, managing just one strike in nine combined appearances between them.

Who is their star man?


With arguably their two best players, Thiago Silva and Neymar, both absent for the semi-final, their most important individual is probably stand-in captain David Luiz.

While the 27-year-old struggled for game time at Chelsea this season, he has been excellent during this tournament and has even been deemed its best player by FIFA’s admittedly somewhat dubious player rankings.

He seems especially suited to international football compared with the frenetic pace of the Prenier League, looking far more composed and positionally aware than he has ever seemed in a Chelsea jersey. Moreover, as was evident against Colombia, he is potentially lethal from set pieces (see above).

Prediction

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Colombia

Source: Manu Fernandez

(Fernandinho made some robust challenges against Colombia)

Fourth place. Expect another tight game, with Brazil as pragmatic as ever and Germany dominating possession and controlling the game as they did for the majority of the match with France.

Much will depend on the midfield battle, and how successful Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo (assuming Paulinho doesn’t start instead) are at stemming Germany’s flow of possession. Brazil will hope to frustrate their opponents, stopping the play as often as possible as they did against Colombia.

However, provided they are on form, the likes of Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos should have too much class for their opposite numbers.

And should the Brazilians go out at the semi-final stage, the level of deflation would then presumably lead to a tepid performance in the third-place play-off thereafter.

Look out for our upcoming respective in-depth looks at the other semi-finalists.

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