We're down to the sharp end of the World Cup now, with a semifinal pitting Germany against hosts Brazil kicking off in a few hours. Germany: fairly Germanic and business-like so far. Brazil: fairly Brazilian and full of uneven flair to date. Both are world soccer powerhouses, but only one can line up at the final on Sunday. Who's it going to be?
Brazil is without star man Neymar, who had his back broken during a challenge late in Brazil's quarterfinal match against Colombia. So a fractured vertebrate later, Brazil loses the guy who's bagged 4 of its 10 goals so far in the tournament (That's like one goal for every seven million Neymar jerseys sold, give or take.) And though Brazil has a dumbfounding array of other one-name dynamos at its disposal — Oscar and Bernard and Fred and Hulk and Jo — only two of them have scored.
They'll also be without team captain Thiago Silva, who is suspended for the match after picking up a couple yellow cards. Silva's a brute on defense and also scored the opener in the 2-1 victory over Colombia (the winner came from another defender: David Luiz). So, basically, Brazil's lost its most likely goal source and also its anchor in defense. Not the kind of shape you want to be in when ze Germans come knocking.
And unfortunately for Brazil, the Germans aren't knocking so much as kicking the door in. Granted, Germany's 1-0 victory over France last week wasn't anything even approaching a thriller, but after an early goal (again, from a defender), Germany drove the match all the way to its foregone conclusion. Even if France had converted one of its few chances, you just knew Germany would kick into gear and pull another back.
With no injuries or suspensions to screw with manager Joachim Löw's plans, things are looking up for the Germans. Steely midfield? Check. Ice man in front of goal? Check. A backline that operates like it was created in a top-secret military defense lab? Affirmative. Golden Boot contender Müller roaming around up front? Jawohl.
Except for an uncharacteristically nervy outing against Ghana in the group stage, Germany's been ruthlessly efficient and nearly always in control. Not even a flu bug that blew through the German camp could slow them down. They have always been a favorite to lift the cup, and though Brazil's been the favorite, that ends today. Germany's gonna do 'em.
With Neymar it could have been a different story, but Brazil's been too reliant on the 22-year-old who got stretchered off last week. It's not going to be a blow-out like when Germany plowed over Portugal, though a close scoreline could see a flurry of rash challenges late on as desperation sets in. (Subplot alert: the referee is Marco Rodriguez, who you may remember as the ref who failed to spot Uruguay's Luis Suarez chomp down on Italy's Giorgio Chiellini.)
Scoreline: 2-0 to the Germans, with a late goal (Why not? This World Cup's been full of them.) Then it's just a matter of getting out of the stadium in one piece.