Preview: Expectations weigh heavy on tournament favorites as Brazil faces Germany

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Brazil or Germany will move into the 2014 World Cup final after tomorrow’s match in Belo Horizonte, but if you remember both teams’ expectations, you know: There’ll be no winners tomorrow at Estádio Mineirão. One team will go home, failing to meet its pre-tournament goal. The other will move 90 minutes closer to the only standard they carried into Brazil 2014: Another World Cup title.

That’s the world of a five-time champion, with Brazil’s success in previous finals hinting no matter the team, no matter the competition, the Selecao are expected to find a way. But that’s also the world of Germany, who’ve reached this stage more than any other team in the tournament’s history (13 times). For die Nationalmannschaft, the semifinals aren’t an achievement. They’re an expectation.

In that sense, expectations sure can be brats. Both Brazil and Germany have had good tournaments, fighting through tough groups and overcoming second game draws to reach the final four undefeated. Both survived tough Round of 16 match-ups to post strong quarterfinal wins, context that will be forgotten if either team falls tomorrow. With a loss, Tuesday’s semifinal could turn into a cross-armed five-year-old, whose pouty-lipped punum reminds the team “We’re always to win.”

Title-minded
source: ReutersOnly eight teams have claimed soccer’s biggest prize, but with five titles of their own, only Brazil can claim to be the winningest nation in World Cup history:

Nation Titles
Brazil 5
Italy 4
Germany 3
Argentina 2
Uruguay 2
France 1
England 1
Spain 1

Given the nature of World Cup, it’s insane to think any team is supposed to win. That implies somebody had better than a 50-50 chance before Game 1. That’s wishful thinking. Even Brazil, most people’s favorites at the tournament’s onset, will have to win four near-tossup games to fight through the knockout round. Granted, three weeks ago, most thought they’d be stronger, but there’s no supposed to about those odds.

And what about Germany? In group stage, they had to face a Ghana team that proved slightly better than expected. Same for the United States and Algeria. Their other two match-ups, to date? Against France and Portugal. Perhaps that road hasn’t proven as difficult as Brazil’s, but there was still nothing certain about Germany’s run to the semifinals.

[MORE: Remembering 2002′s Final: Brazil vs. Germany ]
[MORE: Proof that not everything goes Brazil’s way: Silva suspension upheld ]

Yet here we are, with four teams left in the tournament, and two teams that have combined for 24 semifinal appearances making up one half of the bracket. That number alone tells you there’s something more than the player-for-player match-ups involved. The likes of Colombia, Chile, and France look just as capable on paper, but these two titans face capable every four years. Yet more often than not, those potentials become inert. Where no other nation has made more than eight semifinals, there’s clearly something about Brazil and Germany that pushes them to this level.

Life without Neymar, Thiago Silva

That creates a rock-and-a-hard place feel to Tuesday’s meeting, one in which the little things would typically prove decisive, but in the wake of Friday’s match in Fortaleza, it’s a big thing that threatens to be decisive at the Mineirão. Thanks to one misplaced knee by Colombian fullback Juan Camilo Zuñiga, Brazil’s best player is out, with Neymar set to watch from home while he recovers from a broken vertebra. Responsible for four of the Selecao’s 10 goals this tournament, the Barcelona star gives way to whomever’s audacious enough to fill his boots.

Path to Belo Horizonte: Brazil
source: APBrazil has faced three scares on their way to the final four, with Mexico, Chile, and Colombia each pushing the host nation:

Round Opponent Result
Group A Croatia W, 3-1
Group A Mexico D, 0-0
Group A Cameroon W, 4-1
Round of 16 Chile D, 1-1 (pk: 3-2)
Quarterfinals Colombia W, 2-1

That could be Oscar – another 22-year-old attacker, one who should become the focal point of Brazil’s team in the absence of Neymar. It could be Willian, an attacking midfielder likely to move into the starting lineup, or it could be Hulk, whose left foot is capable of unleashing a lightning bolt that could shock the Germans.

Maybe defender David Luiz, who scored one of the competition’s most memorable goals last round, could step up, though with captain Thiago Silva suspended, the Chelsea defender’s attentions will be focused at the back. Regardless, Brazil will need a new hero if they’re to reach an eighth final.

[MORE: Memory lane: Looking back at best World Cup semifinals in history ]
[MORE: How will Brazil and Germany line up in World Cup semifinal? ]

Style over stars (while lacking neither)

Germany, as if playing to its stereotype, won’t need a hero. Though the team features stars like Phillip Lahm, Thömas Müller, and Mesut Özil, they’re built around a style more than any one player. Possession-dominant in a 4-3-3 formation that”s become an homage to Spain (and Barcelona), Germany’s shown the strength of its collective, changing their forward, midfield, and defensive starters over the course of the tournament. Fifteen different players have started for Germany since the tournament kicked off three weeks ago.

The underlying results have been as expected. Average possession: 60.1 percent. Passes per game: A tournament-leading 634 (per Opta). Though they suffered a scare against Ghana and were taken to extra-time by Algeria, Germany’s only allowed three goals in five games. They haven’t conceded in regulation time since Asamoah Gyan put the Black Stars up 2-1 in the 63rd minute of game number two.

With Germany focused on short passing, using possession as its main defense, Oscar could prove decisive, if a more central position allows him to spark Brazil in transition. Perhaps Willian can exploit the space behind an onrushing Lahm to give the Selecao numbers going the other direction. Maybe Hulk will finally break through with his first World Cup goal.

Path to Belo Horizonte: Germany

source: AP

Thömas Müller has four goals in five games, but it’s Germany’s goal-prevention that’s helped the team survive the knockout round:

Round Opponent Result
Group G Portugal W, 4-0
Group G Ghana D, 2-2
Group G United States W, 1-0
Round of 16 Algeria W, 2-1 (aet)
Quarterfinals France W, 1-0

There’s also a chance defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo will have to be huge game against a collection of players he regularly faces at Wolfsburg. Luiz, wearing the captain’s armband, may have to maintain his all-tournament form, while the heroics Júlio César summoned during the shootout against Chile may be called on before full-time in the semifinals. If Neymar’s absence looms large, Brazil’s defense is as likely to be pushed center stage as its attack.

[MORE: Joachim Low ahead of World Cup semifinal: Brazil lack flair ]
[MORE: Willian to replace Neymar against Germany? Scolari has options ]

And if that absence does loom large, Brazil will have something that mitigates the expectations around them, yet for those inclined to see the host nation as something that transcends one squad’s talent, losing on home soil will never be acceptable, particularly with Uruguay’s win at Brazil 1950 still playing such a big part in Selecao lore. It won’t be Neymar or Thiago Silva, but somebody needs to join the likes of Didi, Pele, Garrincha, Romario, and Ronaldo. Somebody needs to be the hero.

Likewise, for a German soccer nation that sees Brazil 2014 as the payoff for a fundamental shift that began 10 years ago, the semifinals aren’t good enough. Against a wounded team, one that’s been fallible throughout the tournament, the depth of talent Joachim Löw has at his disposal is expected to win out. Home field can only mean so much.

Though it’s impossible to have two favorites, both teams will be treated as such; at least, but their fans. It’s just another nasty byproduct of expectations. Both Brazil and Germany have had strong tournaments, but after 90, potentially 120 minutes on Tuesday, one will go home a failure. The other will advance to Sunday’s World Cup final.

Animated Klopp rejects Keane’s ‘sloppy’ adjective, rips handball rule

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp heard an adjective he did not like from analyst Roy Keane after the Reds’ 3-1 win over Arsenal on Monday.

The word was ‘sloppy’ as Keane mentioned some mistakes from the Reds, which certainly happened.

Klopp was not amused.

[ MORE: Match recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

“Did Mr. Keane say we had a sloppy performance tonight? Maybe he was watching another game? Cannot be this game,” Klopp said. “Sorry. It was absolutely exceptional, from the first second dominant against a team in-form and (we were) careful as hell that we did not get caught on the counter-attack.”

A mishit Andy Robertson clearance allowed Arsenal to take a 1-0 lead but the Premier League champions had it level within a couple of minutes, led at halftime, and shutdown Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang en route to a 3-1 win.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Liverpool-Arsenal ]

“Alisson had to make one save, they had two chances in behind but apart from that the football we played was exceptional tonight,” Klopp said. “This game tonight there is nothing bad to say, it was the opposite of sloppy. … We had so many big moments. We played a super game but were 1-nil down. Completely deserved. Could we have scored more goals? Yes. Could they have scored more? Yes.”

Klopp was also asked about the handball rule which has brought ire from around the football world including teams that have lost and won points off its implementation.

“Eric Dier could do absolutely nothing wrong and it is a penalty. You cannot control your body in that way, you have to move somehow. The only other thing you can do is cut arms off. I’m also really not happy with how long we have to wait (for offsides). … Obviously some rule changes or other things we changed didn’t help but in the moment we have to accept it.”

We’ll all be keeping our arms, as will the players. Never change, Jurgen, although perhaps a few deep breaths might give you a bit longer run on earth!

Player ratings: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool – Arsenal player ratings: This was a real story of defense against attack as the Gunners sat back and Liverpool’s attacking stars had plenty of the ball.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Alexandre Lacazette’s opener saw Liverpool behind briefly, but quickfire goals from Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson put them ahead and Diogo Jota scored a late clincher in the 3-1 win.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]    

Here’s a look at Liverpool – Arsenal player ratings, as we give the players a mark out of 10.


Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Made a good save to deny Lacazette in the second half and had little else to do. Kicking a little shaky on occasions.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 8 – Superb cross for Mane early on and had a vicious shot deflected onto the bar.

Joe Gomez: 6 – Didn’t have much to do but a few gaps appeared between him and Van Dijk in the second half.

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Shot well-saved by Leno and a cool customer, as always, throughout.

Andrew Robertson: 8 – A menace down the left and gave Bellerin a torrid time.

Fabinho: 7 – Sat in and soaked up the play in midfield, and won the ball back time and time again.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 6 – Solid, steady and reliable. Does he ever have a bad game!?

Naby Keita: 6 – Wasn’t able to make his runs forward from midfield. Tidy enough.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Lovely run and shot to set up the first goal and bullied Tierney. Greedy in the second half and took a chance of Jota.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – Good movement and occupied Luiz and Holding to allow Mane and Salah to cut inside.

Sadio Mane: 8 – Could have been sent off early on for an elbow on Tierney and hit a shot straight at Leno. Took his goal well. A constant threat.

Substitutions
James Milner (80′ on for Keita): 6 – Helped Liverpool see out the game by clogging up midfield.
Diogo Jota (80′ on for Mane): 7 – A debut PL goal for Liverpool and had some good runs, a cross and two other shots were both off target. Very lively on his Anfield debut.
Takumi Minamino (90′ on for Firmino): N/A


Arsenal player ratings

Bernd Leno: 6 – A decent stop from Mane but his distribution was sloppy.

Rob Holding: 6 – Did okay defensively but never looks that comfortable in possession.

David Luiz: 6 – Sloppy on the ball at times, and struggled to cope with Liverpool’s pressing. Hung in there.

Kieran Tierney: 5 – Caught out on Liverpool’s first goal but caught by Mane’s elbow early on. Didn’t receive much help.

Hector Bellerin: 5 – Caught napping on both of Liverpool’s firs half goals. Didn’t add anything from an attacking perspective.

Mohamed Elneny: 6 – Worked hard, as always, and tried to string a few passes together.

Granit Xhaka: 5 – Overrun in midfield and couldn’t get on the ball. Subbed off.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 5 – Should have done better to control a ball over the top and pinned back.

Willian: 4 – Switched off to allow Robertson to finish for Liverpool’s second. Offered little in attack.

Alexandre Lacazette: 6 – Scored his goal as he was in the right place at the right time. Worked hard but missed a great chance for a second.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: 5 – Hardly involved and when he was he failed to run at Liverpool or provide quality.

Substitutes
Dani Ceballos (60′ on for Granit Xhaka): 6 – Made a real difference when he came on as he got on the ball.
Nicolas Pepe (68′ on for Willian): 5 – Barely involved.
Eddie Nketiah (74′ on for Lacazette): N/A

3 things we learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool – Arsenal was an interesting tactical battle, as Liverpool pressed high and Arsenal stuck to their defensive shape but the extra quality of Liverpool’s attack shone through in a 3-1 win.

[ MORE: Player ratings out of 10 ]

Alexandre Lacazette’s opener saw Liverpool behind briefly, but quickfire goals from Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson put them ahead and Diogo Jota scored a late clincher.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]    

Here’s a look at what we learned from Liverpool – Arsenal at Anfield.


Jota the perfect understudy to Mane

Sadio Mane wasn’t happy to be subbed off but Jurgen Klopp was perhaps keeping him away from a red card he probably should have got early on. Mane was lucky to stay on the pitch after an early elbow on Kieran Tierney. Was it intentional? No. Was it reckless? Yes. Mane chased down Tierney but raised his elbow and caught Tierney in the face. VAR didn’t determine he should have been sent off as Mane was only booked and stayed on the pitch to duly score the equalizer and was a constant thorn in Arsenal’s side. Liverpool’s star winger wasn’t happy about being replaced by Jota with 10 minutes to go as Klopp had a quiet word.

In that 10 minutes the Portuguese winger scored his first Liverpool goal, hit the side-netting, set up a chance and should have had another but Salah nicked the ball off his foot. Life after Mane, Firmino and Salah is not something Liverpool fans will have to (or want to) think about for a while but Jota, still just 23 years old, is a fine signing from Wolves and will be the perfect understudy to Mane as his pace, finishing and movement is very similar. It’s almost like Liverpool and Klopp have a plan…


Resilient Arsenal showed a little too much respect

Arsenal had two touches in opposition box in first half. Two. It was their lowest total in a single 45 minutes since Opta started recording the stat and it showed how much respect they gave Liverpool. Like they have done against the top teams since Arteta arrived, Arsenal sat back deep and tried to keep the ball at the back to draw Liverpool up the pitch. It didn’t work but they stayed in the game. Arsenal couldn’t string enough passes together to launch dangerous counters but Lacazette did have a big chance to make it 2-2 but he hit his shot straight at Alisson. Arsenal were more resilient than they have been against Liverpool in the past and Arteta’s project has just started. They have taken strides forward, we shouldn’t forget that. Arteta has made them gritty but they still have a long, long way to go.


Sloppy Liverpool caused own problems

They gave Arsenal the opening goal after Andy Robertson couldn’t control the ball in the box, then were cut open in the second half on the break but Lacazette couldn’t make the most of it. It wasn’t a case of Arsenal creating lots of chances, but instead Liverpool giving them the few they did have.

If Liverpool are going to win the Premier League, and other trophies, this season then they must tighten up at the back. They conceded three against Leeds on the opening weekend and have now given Chelsea and Arsenal plenty of chances to score. Klopp worked so hard to eradicate the silly defensive mistakes which riddled his first few years as Liverpool boss but now they’re creeping back in.

Liverpool too much for Arsenal after early scare

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson, and Diogo Jota all scored as Liverpool quickly overcame an early error to beat Arsenal 3-1 at Anfield on Monday.

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things | Player ratings ]

Alexandre Lacazette scored early off a Robertson error but Mane answered within two minutes and the reigning champions were up 2-1 by halftime.

Liverpool joins Everton and Leicester City as the lone 3-0 teams in the Premier League, with Aston Villa sitting at 2-0 after a Monday win and holding status as the Reds’ next PL opponent.

[ MORE: Klopp’s animated post-match reaction ]

Arsenal loses after winning its first two matches. The two sides meet again at the same venue in League Cup fourth round action on Thursday.

Arsenal’s next PL match is home to Sheffield United on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  


Analysis, notes, and stats from Liverpool – Arsenal

1. Mixed results for Arsenal litmus test: A 34 percent possession number and 21-4 deficit in shot attempts show the Gunners have a long way to go to catch Liverpool despite the dreams inspired by the club’s Project Restart win at the Emirates Stadium. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds could’ve scored a bunch more than three and while Alisson did well to twice deny Lacazette after his opener, the chances mostly belonged to the champs.

2. Aubameyang’s off day: He wanted a card for a Fabinho drag down in the 69th minute, which was one of the few times he was in focus. With 20 minutes to play, Aubameyang had 23 total touches and had completed just 7-of-16 passes. Would he find a moment to make the difference? He managed one more touch before a stoppage time rush with the match out of hand.

3. Alexander-Arnold’s arrows: Liverpool’s assist man completed three key passes on an 88-touch day on the right side.

Man of the Match

Fabinho and Alisson get knowing nods for fine days and Alexander-Arnold was influential as usual, but Mohamed Salah’s incisive passing should’ve easily provided a goal for at least one of his teammates. Really good-looking stuff that will not find any highlight reels.


Liverpool – Arsenal recap

Sadio Mane saw an early yellow card for a forearm to the face of Kieran Tierney in a move that has sometimes seen the referee brandish a red.

Naby Keita slipped Andy Robertson into the box for an 11th-minute chance that was blocked for a corner by Rob Holding.

David Luiz cleared a Virgil van Dijk header off the line after Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted the center back at the back post.

Leno stopped a bullet Mane shot in the 16th as Liverpool asked all the questions. Alexander-Arnold had a shot deflect off the cross bar five minutes later.

Arsenal scored with its first chance of the game, French striker Lacazette crossing himself at his good fortune at both Andy Robertson whiffing a clearance onto his path but also a mishit ball finding its way past Alisson Becker. 1-0, 26′.

Liverpool made it 1-1 in the 28th, a deserved goal that came when Leno saved Mohamed Salah but Mane deposited the rebound.

Robertson made amends for his mistake when he found himself behind the Gunners’ back line to deposit a Hector Bellerin-altered Alexander-Arnold cross.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Alisson stopped Lacazette’s chip in the 59th, though the flag was up, as Arsenal had a rare chance. He was onside when Alisson stopped his similar effort in the 63rd.

Diogo Jota’s Liverpool debut could’ve easily included a goal or two off the bench but he sliced one shot wide of the far post and saw a near-post effort go off the outside of the side netting.

He got his goal in the 88th minute, a nice finish inside the near post of Leno.