World Cup 2014 semi-final preivew: Blankety Blank, Völler & more

Barrie White takes a look at the various intriguing permutations for the World Cup final, including Germany v Holland

Argentina forward Lionel Messi Photo: Back Page Images

Imagine, if you will, that the 2014 World Cup was a big game of Blankety Blank.

It was a game hosted by the brilliant Les Dawson (ignore the Lily Savage one) and consisted of a panel of fairly well-known celebs. Each of them would write a word that replaced the blank in a sentence read out by Les.

For example – the Mexico manager was absolutely _____________.

So, 2014’s would be – the biggest grudge match at the World Cup, making up the final, will be__________________.

Pre-tournament, if you’d written Brazil v Argentina or Germany v Holland, you’d get points, because those two outcomes couldn’t be any more acrimonious or steeped in history.

Obviously Brazil v Holland and Germany v Argentina is a possibility and the latter is also a brilliant story, meeting twice already in 1986 and 1990, level at one apiece.
But those two finals are the ones to whet the appetite.

If Brazil face their neighbours, then it would be arguably the dream final. The hosts of one of the best tournaments there’s been, and their oldest rivals, including the Maradona heir-apparent (yes, still) – Lionel Messi.

Seemingly, Argentines hate to love Brazil, and Brazilians love to hate the Argentines.

Also, it appears Brazil have never forgiven a sub-standard Argentina for winning their last-16 tie in 1990 (Maradona then, Messi now?). One thing Brazilians are robbed off is a showdown of Barcelona’s finest, with Neymar ruled out.

However, there’s just something tasty about Germany facing the Dutch, both inside and outside of football. In the game, the Germans broke Holland’s hearts in 1974, coming from behind to win their second trophy, on home soil.

Then there’s 1990 – the disgusting incident with Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler which saw both men sent off despite the German’s only offence was being stood on and spat at by the future Barcelona boss.

Simon Kuper’s excellent ‘Football against the Enemy’ covers in more detail than a whimsical column ever could do (really!) and he suggests it is too obvious to lay the blame on Nazi occupation of Holland in World War Two for the deep hatred.

In fact, he points to the 1970s, where the dull and robust Germans always managed to grab the upper hand over the revolutionaries of football, the Total Football team of Rinus Michels, spearheaded by the great Johan Cruyff. This obviously rankled, so much so that when Holland defeated West Germany on the way to winning Euro ’88, it was a victory of lifestyle, and not just football.

It has to be noted, this all largely comes from one side. The Germans love to play the Dutch so they can keep beating them again. Back in your box, as it were, but from talking to people here, Holland is the game all Germans want.

So what do both sides have to do in order to at first make the final, before worrying about opposition?

Brazil and Germany will be a strange game as it will be the Europeans here who arguably have the greater flair.

Ironically, it is two Bundesliga-based stars who may hold the key, as the returning Luiz Gustavo will know all about his former Bayern Munich team-mates in midfield. The Wolfsburg man has, quietly, been one of the star performers at this World Cup.

With Thiago Silva out, up steps the lovely fro of Dante. Better than his critics take him for, his ability to ease people off the ball and attack space will be vital if Brazil are to stop Germany’s front men.

Without Neymar though, one does wonder where Brazil’s goals will come from. Fred is quickly becoming a global laughing stock with some inept performances, while the Evertonian in me says that if you had to put your house on Jo scoring, start packing.

Expect another bombardment of the back four and the crowd playing their part. Sounds cliched, but it worked against Colombia. Their other secret weapon will be important too – the massive bug!!

Germany’s defensive soundness will be key again, though expect super-sweeper Manuel Neuer to be more involved as Brazil look to use willing runners. A Teutonic win.

Argentina will struggle again. Angel Di Maria is out and he has been the South American side’s only other creative influence. Gonzalo Higuain’s return to scoring is greatly needed, but it all comes down to Messi again.

If he fires, Argentina will be dragged through with him, but if the recent cynical Dutch show up, expect a brutal 90 minutes for the little man.

And then there’s the ‘Golden Willy’. Not a sentence I ever want to write again. Incoming Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has shown tactical bravery, if a few were left thinking ‘what the-‘. Obviously, this best summed up by his decision to throw Newcastle United’s Tim Krul in for the penalties against Costa Rica. Rum chap that Krul.

Arjen Robben’s theatrics are centre-stage again – a big shame as he has been in the top five players with his free running and abandonment of all discipline. United’s new skipper (cheeky!) Robin van Persie is failing in front of goal, and LvG not yet ready to throw Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar into the full-time fray just yet.

If Holland score first, they’re through, but only if.

At least, however, we have two huge games in prospect, and some of the younger generation may re-visit Blankety Blank!

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