The remaining World Cup semifinalists — Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands — all are titans of men’s soccer. Each ranks among the top seven sides in World Cup match wins, and in the top five in winning percentage among sides with at least four wins. Germany and Argentina each have won at least two Cups. And yet the Dutch have none, despite making more finals than champions England, France, Spain and Uruguay. The Dutch can take the first step in remedying that on Wednesday by following fellow European side Germany in upsetting a South American favorite.
- Netherlands vs. Argentina: 4 p.m. EDT
See our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.
A month ago, this didn’t look like the year for the Netherlands. It had the roughest draw of the tournament and, by our model, less than a 50 percent chance of advancing to the knockout stage. The Dutch responded by producing the biggest shock of the 2014 Cup (until Germany’s rout of Brazil on Tuesday, that is) by blowing out defending champion Spain, 5-1, earning a relatively easy knockout-stage draw and cruising to the semis with the most goals and best goal differential of the final four.
Arjen Robben has been the Dutch side’s offensive engine. Through the quarterfinals he had more than double the number of solo runs into the penalty area of any other player in the tournament. And he’s tied for second in deliveries in the penalty area among active players. Argentina’s Angel di Maria has more, but he’s injured and will miss Wednesday’s match.
That leaves the impossible Lionel Messi atop this category. Without di Maria, Messi becomes even more central to Argentina’s offense, a proposition that didn’t seem possible.
Argentina remains a slight favorite in the match after accounting for di Maria’s absence. A South American team has won each of the prior seven times the Americas hosted the World Cup. Messi and Argentina remain the last hope to maintain that streak.
With hosts Brazil out of the way, this could be Messi’s best chance to add a World Cup championship to his otherwise sterling resume. He’ll turn 31 in the summer of 2018, an age of decline for the typical international soccer player. Pele and Diego Maradona were done winning World Cups before they turned 30.
Then again, Robben is 30 and might have thought his best chance to win vanished in the final four years ago, when he and his teammates lost in added extra time to Spain. Now he and the Dutch again are close to shedding the undisputed title of best team never to win the World Cup.
Just like everyone predicted, right?
ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) gave Germany a 0.02 percent chance to score at least seven goals in its semifinal match against Brazil. If possible, general expectations gave it less of a chance than that. But Germany stamped its ticket to the final in impressive fashion.
To mark Tuesday’s 7-1 result, here are seven notes:
- The 7-1 loss was the worst in Brazil’s history, and the largest margin of victory in a FIFA World Cup semifinal. Brazil hadn’t conceded seven goals in a match since 1934, in an 8-4 friendly loss to Yugoslavia. A Seleção hadn’t lost a competitive match at home since 1975, a streak of 62 straight competitive matches (43-0-19).
- Tuesday’s six-goal margin of defeat was the worst loss by a home country in World Cup history and doubled the previous record. Brazil had never trailed by more than three goals in any World Cup match.
- Miroslav Klose scored the second goal of the game, his 16th career World Cup goal. Klose is now the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history, breaking a tie with Ronaldo. Klose also played in the 2002 World Cup final between Germany and Brazil, and was the only player on the pitch Tuesday to compete in both matches.
- Hot on Klose’s heels is the 24-year old Muller, who scored his 10th career World Cup goal Tuesday. The only players with more World Cup goals before age 25 are France’s Just Fontaine (13) and Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis (11).
- Germany finished the game with seven goals on 14 shots. Compare that to the one goal the Germans scored on 13 shots against the United States in the group stage. By comparison, twenty-eight teams have failed to score seven goals over the course of their entire World Cup histories.
- Germany entered the day with 216 World Cup goals, in second place all time but trailing Brazil by four. Germany finished the day in first place. The team’s fifth goal was scored in the 30th minute, the fastest any team has reached five goals in World Cup history. Until this year, Brazil had not conceded five goals over the course of an entire World Cup tournament since 1998.
- It wasn’t just star striker Neymar whom Brazil missed. Thiago Silva was suspended for the match because of yellow-card accumulation, and the Brazilian defense missed its captain. The Germans completed 90 percent of their passes in the attacking penalty area, tied for the highest percentage among teams with at least 10 attempts in the last 50 years.
— John Parolin, Senior Statistics Analyst for ESPN
OFF THE PITCH
Soccer may be one of the few things that Argentina and the Netherlands have in common. The Netherlands itself acknowledges the lack of cultural ties between the two countries. But in the realm of economic relations, differences are an asset. Both countries benefit from each other’s distinct economies, but Argentina gets the better end of the deal. Data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity shows that Argentina sent $4.4 billion of exports in the Netherlands’ direction in 2012, while just $764 million worth of goods flowed in the opposite direction. Both countries’ exports were indicative of their respective economies. Argentine goods concentrated in agricultural products such as oil, maize and bovine meat. On the flipside, the Netherlands’ more industrial economy sent Argentina mostly health-related chemicals and products, closely followed by machinery used for purposes such as heating, cooling and food-processing. – Hayley Munguia