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The Clean Sheets: Previewing the World Cup Semifinals

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird is the Senior Soccer Editor for RotoWire, as well as a fantasy football and college basketball contributor.

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, July 7, 2014 9:45am
To: Nick Pitner
Subject: The Clean Sheets - World Cup Semifinal


I honestly cannot imagine what it's like to be a Brazil fan right now. With so much excitement and a spot in the semifinals of the World Cup on home soil, everything should be looking up.

Unfortunately, superstar Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra in the quarterfinal against Colombia and will miss the rest of the tournament. There is ridiculous talk that he could make it back for the final, but I can't fathom a doctor being dumb enough to clear him. He said after getting hit that he couldn't feel his legs and now we're suggesting that he could play in less than two weeks? This is either irresponsible medical care or irresponsible journalism.

In addition to Neymar, Brazil will be without Thiago Silva, one of the best defenders in the world. After picking up an incredibly stupid yellow card in the Colombia game, Silva will be ineligible to face Germany, who reached their fourth consecutive semifinal.

I still don't think Germany has looked dominant in any part of the tournament, but the loss of Neymar and Silva will just be too much to overcome in my opinion. Sign me up for a 2-1 Germany win with goals from Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and...I have no idea who would score for Brazil.

Speaking of Muller, I asked on Twitter the other day who the biggest flopper in the tournament was, Muller or Arjen Robben. The quick response was Robben, mostly because he goes down with no contact. But man, if you sneeze within 10 yards of Muller, he's hitting the deck.

The Argentina vs. Netherlands matchup looks fantastic on paper, which means we'll likely go into extra time scoreless. Angel di Maria will miss out, but Argentina will apparently get Sergio Aguero back from a thigh injury. The attack headlined by Aguero, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain is what made me pick them to win it all before the tournament started, and while it hasn't been nearly as strong as I expected, how do you go against them?

Robben and Robin van Persie will obviously be hell for the Argentinian defenders, and I would love to see a 4-3 or 3-2 game. As exciting as penalty shootouts are, it's an imperfect way to decide a grueling 90 or 120-minute match. I'll go with 3-2 Argentina, with two goals from Messi, one from Higuain and two from RVP, which will make every Manchester United fan start asking if we can start the Premier League season immediately.

Your thoughts?

-----Original Message-----
From: Nick Pitner
Sent: Monday, July 7, 2014 12:57pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: The Clean Sheets - World Cup Semifinal


While people's rooting interests surely differ, it's hard not to be gutted by Neymar's injury. He lived up to the massive expectations put upon him entering the tournament and really drove Brazil to this point. There's no way he's playing again this summer, which is really sad, but I'm still not ruling the Brazilians out.

Silva's yellow card was incredibly foolish, especially from a well-composed captain like him; however, Brazil is appealing the ruling, so maybe they'll at least strike some luck with an overturn. Otherwise, his potential suspension literally adds insult to injury.

No matter, I believe the Selecao under manager Luiz Felipe Scolari remains suited for a title run. It's certainly an unpopular vote of confidence given their situation, but Scolari is a results-based tactician that may find relief in not being asked to win in signature Brazilian style.

Similarly, in light of Neymar being down, I imagine the host country's supporters caring less about how they win. With that in mind, the pressure on Brazil's total performance has been eased to some degree. Conversely, Germany faces the pressures of being favorited to win and to do so in a hostile, emotionally charged environment.

Playing at home could provide the ideal setting for the Brazilian team and fans to rally together. If they're going to overcome Neymar's injury anywhere, it might as well be on home soil.

I thought Germany was arguably out-played by the French, as they created less clear-cut chances before Les Bleus were forced to throw everything forward. With players out of position at both full-back spots and central striker, Die Mannschaft hasn't exactly flattered with their showings since the 4-0 assault of Portugal.

That being said, three-fourths of the remaining countries have made it this far without completely fulfilling lofty pre-tournament expectations.

Nonetheless, I've talked myself into picking Brazil through a gritty, resilient performance. If Silva is indeed ruled out, Dante figures to slot-in his role and has a wealth of experience defending Germany's Bayern Munich stars in training at the club level, as does former Bayern midfielder Luiz Gustavo. My prediction is 1-0 Brazil!

Looking at the Argentina-Holland semifinal, I think your hope for a high-scoring affair stands a decent chance. Both defenses have generally been solid, but in attack is certainly where the nations' strengths lie. Specifically, three of the best left feet in world football headline this match-up - Messi for Argentina, and van Persie and Robben for the Netherlands.

It's a shame Di Maria (another lefty) won't be available, as I consider him supremely talented, yet highly underrated. Unlike Messi, van Persie, and Robben, Di Maria does his business all over the pitch, not just in the final third after teammates do the dirty work. Fortunately, the Argentines get Aguero back from injury, but who knows how healthy he actually is.

Between the Netherlands being gifted advancement in the Round of 16 by Robben's dive and prevailing thanks to apparent penalty-specialist Tim Krul in the quarterfinals, I question whether Louis van Gaal's side has any more tricks up their sleeves.

Sure, Argentina has gone undefeated solely from one-goal wins, but Messi is as reliable as they come. 2-1 Argentina sets up an epic South American Final.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, July 7, 2014 2:01pm
To: Nick Pitner
Subject: re: The Clean Sheets - World Cup Semifinal


It looks like Silva's appeal has been denied, so it's going to be the Dante Show against the Germans.

Additionally, David Luiz has been given the captain's armband for the match, which probably makes Paris Saint-Germain feel good about spending £50 million to grab him from Chelsea.

What did you make of van Gaal's goalkeeper switch in the quarterfinal against Costa Rica just ahead of the penalty shootout? I feel like he's getting praised immensely for the move because it worked, but don't these things tend to be completely random? As much as goalies want to say they react to the kick, they are clearly just guessing. Couldn't we have had the same result with Jasper Cillessen in goal?

-----Original Message-----
From: Nick Pitner
Sent: Monday, July 7, 2014 2:01pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: The Clean Sheets - World Cup Semifinal


I think van Gaal's unflappable confidence deserves applause. The Dutch national team has been renowned for playing "total football," a philosophy where attackers and defenders are mostly interchangeable in a 4-3-3 formation, but van Gaal recognized that style didn't fit the current squad, so he bravely implemented the three-defender system that has worked thus far.

Similarly, van Gaal trusted Krul enough to make the gutsy decision to switch goalkeepers after 120 minutes. In the end, his unusual choices have allowed Holland to reach a second straight World Cup semifinal. So while I too found Krul's introduction to be a head-scratcher, and think van Gaal would have deserved heavy criticism in defeat, the future Manchester United boss' innovation ultimately paid off and that's that.

I'd also like to bring attention to referee Marco Rodriguez being chosen to oversee the Brazil-Germany match. That's because Rodriguez was the referee that not only failed to see Luis Suarez's bite versus Italy, but also reduced the Italians to 10-men via a terribly soft red card earlier in the second-half of that encounter. It's shocking that Rodriguez has been selected to work another game, let alone a semifinal featuring the host country. #FIFA