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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

World Cup 2014 Semi Final Picks (July 8-9)

The knock out phase of the World Cup has seen the tournament return to the kind of football that comes in major international tournaments when the pressure filled environment begins. Now teams have something more to lose, the cavalier approach of the Group Stage has been replaced with more tense games and plenty of extra time/penalties to separate teams.

It wouldn't surprise me if both World Cup Semi Final matches follow the pattern that has been set with the goals also drying up as teams look to make themselves hard to beat and so the creativity has been stifled now teams are focusing on shutting down the top players.

The Semi Final line up looks very strong in terms of what these international nations have done in the past with ten World Cup titles between the four nations left in Brazil. Add in the fact that they have also contributed to ten runners up and you know Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands are soaked in a rich history.

Picking a winner is proving to be a difficult task for all with none of the teams really separating themselves from the pack and injuries/suspensions beginning to take their toll. Two tight Semi Finals look to be developing, although early goals could potentially open things up in both games even if it didn't quite work out that way in the Quarter Finals.

Brazil v Germany Pick: If you ignore all the whining being done by the Brazilians in the wake of losing Neymar for the tournament, some may consider this a 'reap what you sow' kind of situation. The referee allowed Brazil to kick James Rodriguez off the park in the Quarter Final win over Colombia so it seems kind of strange that so many feel so aggrieved that the Brazilian star player suffered an injury from the sole 'bad' tackle he suffered.

The last two Brazil games have produced the most fouls in the tournament and there is a real sense that the hosts are looking to 'kick their way to the title'. Without Neymar, Brazil have lost their biggest spark up front and the one player that can spark a moment of magic to win games and that is the reason they are no longer the favourites to win on home soil.

A lot of the goals have come from set pieces though, including both in the Quarter Final and the one against Chile in the Second Round, but Germany will feel they can deal with that threat effectively. If they can. Germany have every chance of reaching their first Final since 2002 and trying to win the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Thiago Silva is another key loss for Brazil at an inopportune time, but Germany have persisted with a 'false nine' formation that might not exploit the uncertainty at the heart of the Brazil defence. Dante is an opponent that the Germans will know all about, while David Luiz is always susceptible to taking a big chance that can lead to a mistake so Joachim Loew has to find a way to exploit these areas of the pitch.

It does feel the game could be won or lost in the middle of the park where Luis Gustavo returns for Brazil and is the part of the pitch where both Brazil and Germany will feel they are better equipped. The winner of those battles will be able to control the game and force the quick breaks forward that can make the difference in the match and it is going to be tough to call.

In my opinion, Brazil have to show something they haven't through the tournament if they are to win this game and all without their two best players. Losing two of the four man spine of a team is tough to replace and Germany have enough experience to deal with the situation.

After coming close to the Final in 2006 and 2010, Germany can surprise the hosts and end their party right here by beating Brazil in an intriguing Semi Final.

Netherlands v Argentina Pick: Hands up if you saw that coming? Brazil were an absolute shambles in their 1-7 loss to Germany in the first World Cup Semi Final, but I would be surprised if we even got to see half that number of goals in this one.

Both the Netherlands and Argentina have a rich history in the World Cup including one meeting in the Final back in 1978, the sole time Argentina have gotten the better of the Dutch in a competitive game.

They played out a goalless draw, one that mutually benefited both nations, in the Group Stage in 2006 and I don't foresee a game with many goals in this one either. Robin Van Persie is a doubt for Holland, while Angel Di Maria has been ruled out for Argentina.

Better news for Argentina is the return of Sergio Aguero, but Holland also had some good news that Nigel de Jong is back in training and there are more similarities with both nations relying on their star player in forward positions- Lionel Messi for Argentina; Arjen Robben for Holland.

The teams will know whoever shackles the other team's top threat is likely to move into the Final on Sunday and that could lead to a tactical game with not much space to exploit. The one nagging doubt against that happening are the two defences that look vulnerable when players are running at them and both Messi and Robben are capable of doing that to great effect.

My feeling is that Argentina will find the three forwards they have in Aguero, Messi and Gonzalo Higuain and one of those will find that bit of magic to separate the sides. I don't think there will be a lot of goals though and one could be enough to separate the two teams and I think the value is backing Argentina to win this game by one goal. Dutching two correct scores of 1-0 and 2-1 to Argentina provides a slightly bigger payout than simply backing the South Americans to win by one goal, but I will go for the latter option in case we suddenly see the World Cup burst back into life as it did in terms of goals in the first Semi Final.

MY PICKS: Germany to Win @ 3.00 Coral (2 Units)
Argentina to Win by One Goal @ 4.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)

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