The 2014 World Cup in Brazil went from having a high rate of scoring to a quarterfinal round that produced five goals in four games.
However, as the last week of the competition unfolds, traditional powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands are the last four standing in this incredible tournament.
The first semifinal game, on Tuesday, matches the pre-tournament favorite, Brazil, against an outstanding German team.
As everyone knows, Brazil will be without Neymar, its most influential player and its primary threat (four goals). In his absence, Hulk, Oscar, Fred and Willian must step up their games, which have been less than potent (a total of two goals among them).
Brazil has given up only four goals in five games. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar is steady and reliable. But the loss of team captain Thiago Silva because of yellow cards is damaging. His replacement, Dante (Bayern Munich), is a very good defender and knows the German team well, but he has not played in this World Cup. Additionally, outside backs Maicon, Dani Alves and Marcelo will be severely tested by the Germans. Brazil's holding midfielders, Paulinho, Fernandinho and Ramires, have done a good job in offering cover for the center-backs and attacking players in Brazil's 4-2-3-1 formation.
The Germans have a quality team with technical, tactical and physical skills, plus great experience. Germany is the first country to qualify for four consecutive World Cup semifinals.
Manuel Neuer is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. The Germany backline was solidified once Coach Joachim Loew returned Philipp Lahm to his natural position of right-back. Lahm, with Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes, make up one of the best backlines in the tournament. The Germans know how to close out games, as evidenced by their three shutouts in five games.
The German attack is led by striker Thomas Mueller (four goals), supported by capable attacking players in Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Lukas Podolski, Andre Schurrle, and Miroslav Klose. Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos are quality players on offense and defense.
Overall, Germany is the best "team" remaining in this tournament. It is well coached, talented and typically starts six or seven players from the same club team (Bayern Munich). The Brazilian team has been inconsistent and has looked disjointed on defense and not very lethal on offense. It has the advantage of tremendous support in the stands, but is feeling overwhelming pressure as the host country and must deal with the loss of Neymar. The Germans are mentally strong and physically and tactically prepared for this game and I believe they will beat Brazil and advance to the final.
The other semifinal game, on Wednesday, has Argentina playing the Netherlands. Argentina is led by arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, who is having an outstanding tournament (four goals) for the only team to have won all five of its games. Argentina is criticized for being too dependent on Messi, and the loss of the injured Angel Di Maria weakens the team on offense.
Argentina plays a version of a 4-4-2, with Messi floating underneath striker Gonzalo Higuain. Messi will need his teammates to be scoring threats or he will face the likelihood of seeing three opponents whenever he touches the ball. Fortunately for Argentina, it appears that the injured attacker Sergio Aguero will play and Higuain, who scored the winning goal versus Belgium, should be a more confident player versus the Netherlands.
So far the strength of Argentina has been its defense, giving up only three goals in the tournament. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero has led a solid backline. However, I believe the defensive play of central midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia are the keys to Argentina's defense. For Argentina to win, it will need another outstanding defensive effort, coupled with the magic of Messi.
The Netherlands has had a very interesting tournament. It manhandled defending champion Spain, 5-1, in the opening game of group play, and completed the group with three victories. In the knockout games against Mexico (2-1, two late goals) and Costa Rica (0-0, 4-3 penalty shootout), it barely managed to win despite being the dominant team in both games.
The Netherlands has three excellent attacking players in Arjen Robben (three goals), Robin Van Persie (three goals) and Wesley Sneijder (one goal). Robben has been as good as any attacking player in this tournament and is the key to this Dutch team. Playing out of a 3-4-3 formation, the team has been very good on defense and dangerous going forward. I think this balance will create problems for Argentina.
This game is a toss-up and could go to penalties, which would favor the Netherlands and its shootout specialist goalkeeper, Tim Krul. Therefore, I'm picking the Netherlands to advance to a second consecutive World Cup final.
So in a highly unpredictable tournament, I see an all-European World Cup with Germany against the Netherlands on July 13.
Arena is coach and general manager of the Galaxy and was coach of the U.S. team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times