Four weeks after the World Cup kicked off, four of thirty-two teams are left - Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, and Argentina. There can be little surprise at this eminent list of survivors, though some may have held fond hopes of others making it so far. By the previous stage of the tournament itself, the eight teams remaining were all those who had topped their groups.
For German fans, the upcoming semifinal against Brazil may be their most critical match of the tournament yet. The fixture is not just in their way to a record eighth World Cup final but it is against their bête noire, Brazil, who already have the home court advantage. In 21 meetings between the two footballing superpowers, Germany has won a mere four times against Brazil and drawn five times; Brazil has claimed the remaining dozen victories, scoring 39 goals against the Germans and conceding 24. The only time the two sides met in the World Cup was in 2002, when Brazil won comfortably with 2:0 scoreline. In fact, Germany has never beaten Brazil in a tournament - not the World Cup (2002) nor the Confederations Cup (1999, 2005).
Germany's last victory against Brazil, in a 2011 friendly, came after an 18-year wait. It came, as did all other German victories against Brazil, on German soil; the boys from Brazil have not been encumbered by any such geographical limitation and have defeated Germany on their own soil (5/12) as much as anywhere else (Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Japan). Interestingly, Germany seems to be the only European team that chokes against Brazil. Italy's record of wins, losses, and draws against Brazil reads 5:7:2 and France has an even more enviable 5:4:4.
In a sea of depressing statistics, Germany can take solace in a couple of things. The first is that Brazil seem not to be performing at their highest level, drawing with Mexico in the group stages, escaping with Loki's own luck past Chile in the second round, and struggling past Colombia in the quarterfinals. Germany itself struggled a bit with Ghana in the group stage but otherwise had little trouble with either Algeria or France in the elimination rounds. However, teams of the calibre of either Brazil or Germany can ramp up their game at the drop of a hat and spectators may be in for a scintillating semifinal.
Second, Brazil's star player, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, has injured his vertebra in the last match and will be missing the rest of the World Cup. Neymar is an important fixture in the Brazilian team despite their deep bench strength; the South American side has so far relied on the forward for 23% of its scoring chances, its next two most valuable players, Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior and Givanildo Vieira de Souza (Hulk), being responsible for 13% and 11% respectively. By contrast, Germany has seen its scoring opportunities and gameplay divided fairly evenly between Thomas Müller (21%), Mesut Özil (19%), and Toni Kroos (14%). The importance of just one player cannot be overlooked as Germany learned in their semifinal against Spain in the last World Cup when Müller was unavailable for play due to his second yellow card of the tournament in the quarterfinals against Argentina.
Of course, history is not everything or FIFA might as well invite only former champions to compete. If Germany were to manage to move past Brazil and go into the World Cup finals, it would meet the winner of the second semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands. Die Mannschaft's record against either of these teams is significantly better than against the host nation. Head-to-head, Germany has won 7, lost 9, and drawn 4 matches against Argentina; the European side has bested the South American team in four of their six encounters in the World Cup and lost only once, in the 1986 final. Against the Netherlands, Germany's record stands at 15:10:15, not one loss at a World Cup. Germany lost 3:1 the last time they played Argentina in August 2012 and drew against the Netherlands in November of the same year.
In the last few days of this World Cup, the greatest threat to a German triumph comes from Brazil. Argentina's Lionel Messi may have won the hearts of millions and the Dutch trio of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie may indeed pose a problem for Joachim Löw's boys, but the psychological hurdle of defeating Brazil is far higher than any of Germany's potential opponents in the finals. In fact, if Germany can win on July 8 (Brazil time), it may very well go on to win the World Cup.