MATTIAS KAREN, AP Sports Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil and Germany are two of the most decorated teams in football, with eight World Cup titles between them. Both have their share of players among the all-time greats, and both entered this tournament being touted among the main favorites.
So even without the injured Neymar, Tuesday’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte provides an intriguing matchup for any neutral fan, as Germany and Brazil play each other at the World Cup for the first time since the 2002 final.
Here is a look at how the teams compare in 2014:
Manuel Neuer has been one of Germany’s best players this tournament, especially in the knockout rounds. He bailed out Germany’s erratic defense numerous times by rushing out to clear ball after ball in the second-round win over Algeria, and made key saves to deny Karim Benzema an equalizer for France in the quarterfinals. The Bayern Munich No. 1 has won just about everything at club level and is widely regarded as one of the top keepers in the world.
Julio Cesar used to have that reputation as well, but is arguably not quite the player he was during his best years at Inter Milan. He now plays for Toronto in Major League Soccer. He’s been solid at this World Cup, however, where he has yet to concede more than one goal in a game. And the 34-year-old Cesar has come up big when Brazil needed him to, saving two penalties in the shootout against Chile in the second round.
Brazil has always been known for its attacking play, but this World Cup squad arguably has more impressive names in defense — especially now that star forward Neymar is ruled out. However, the team’s best defender — captain Thiago Silva — is suspended for the semifinal, a big blow for the back four. But Brazil has a good replacement in Bayern Munich’s Dante to put in alongside David Luiz, while coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to decide whether to put Barcelona’s Dani Alves back in at right back or stick with Maicon, who was a surprise starter in the quarterfinals. Real Madrid’s Marcelo should guard the left wing.
Germany’s defense looked downright awful against Algeria, and coach Joachim Loew responded by dropping center back Per Mertesacker for the next game and moving captain Philip Lahm to his favorite position as right back instead of midfield. The changes worked, and Germany looked like its old solid self against France. With Mats Hummels back healthy to anchor the central defense — and even scoring the winning goal against France — the Germans have a reliable foundation in front of Neuer.
Germany’s midfield has been given a big boost by Bastian Schweinsteiger returning to full fitness after a knee injury. Playing alongside Sami Khedira, Schweinsteiger can control the pace of the game while also helping out defensively, giving Toni Kroos room to work as the team’s main playmaker. While Mesut Ozil has had a fairly lackluster tournament so far, he’s one of the world’s best passers and could still prove crucial for Germany.
Brazil’s midfield will likely have a new look for this game as Scolari is expected to replace Neymar with a midfielder — probably Willian. The Chelsea player has enough speed and skill to cause defenders trouble, but doesn’t have the scoring ability of Neymar. Oscar, another Chelsea player, will also need to step up as a playmaker. Luiz Gustavo is back after a suspension, which should help shore things up defensively.
With Neymar in the team, the forward line was always a strength for Brazil. Without him, it’s a glaring weakness. Fred has struggled badly as the team’s center forward at the World Cup, scoring just one goal in five games. Hulk has looked lively throughout but has yet to score, while Jo has failed to make an impact when he’s come on as a substitute.
Germany, meanwhile, has Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose as its main attacking options. Mueller has four goals so far in Brazil — one short of his tally in South Africa in 2010 — while the 36-year-old Klose has a chance to break the World Cup scoring record. Klose shares the record of 15 career goals with Brazil great Ronaldo, so the Brazilian defenders will probably be extra eager to shut him down. Germany also has better options off the bench, with Lukas Podolski and Mario Goetze to bring on.
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