The first World Cup 2014 semi-final pits a wounded but winning host nation against a golden generation at the peak of its powers. Someone is leaving this game disappointed, and it won’t be the neutrals. Here are five questions worth asking before kickoff:
1. Will Miroslav Klose break the record?
If the German striker makes the net move in this game, he’ll become the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 16. And Brazil’s Ronaldo, with whom Klose currently shares the record of 15, will have two reasons to be angry.
2. Who replaces Thiago Silva?
Brazil’s captain and mind-reading central defender is suspended, and his replacement will either be Bayern Munich’s Dante or Napoli’s Henrique. Most favor Dante to partner David Luiz in Silva’s stead because Dante is familiar with the core of Germany’s team (his Bayern teammates). But I favor Henrique for the exact same reason: If there’s a weakness is Dante’s game, then his Bayern teammates like Bastian Schweinsteiger will be eager to exploit it.
3. Who replaces Neymar?
Brazil’s #10, poster boy, and chief source of both goals and step-overs, will miss this game with a fractured vertebra. There is no real replacement for Neymar, unless Pele finds the Fountain of Youth before 4 p.m. Eastern. So Brazil will either ask someone like Oscar or Willian to do their best imitation or, more likely, use Neymar’s absence as an excuse to bring in someone like Ramires and double down on defensive midfielders in an attempt to match up with Germany’s scary-good midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos.
4. Can Manuel Neuer be beaten?
The German keeper has looked superhuman, racing off his line to collect any balls that are brave enough to venture behind Germany’s back four and blocking point-blank shots from world-class strikers like Karim Benzema with just one very firm hand. But Neuer is just a regular human, right? I mean we’ve checked to make sure he’s not a Terminator, haven’t we? One powerful strike from Hulk’s left foot could provide the answer.
5. Can Brazil’s fullbacks defend for 90 minutes?
Marcelo will start at left-back, while either Maicon or Dani Alves will start at right-back. All three love to get forward, but if they dare to dream about overlapping runs then Thomas Mueller, the Raumdeuter himself, will be waiting to work his magic in the space they leave behind.