Brazil’s hopes of winning the World Cup has (as always one is tempted to say) relied much on their number 10, Neymar. In that sense, Argentina and Brazil are similar. However, the Brazilians have looked stronger than Argentina with more players able to contribute going forward (and their two central defenders able to score vital goals). But still their approach is based more on individual actions, less on team “automatisms.” Contingency and not pattern seems the dominant trait of their attacking style. Of course, Brazil is still playing on home soil, and the team – as for example in the game against Colombia – looks almost infused with energetic frenzy, and even without Neymar this may take them a long way. But as with Argentina, I don’t think they will be able to go all the way.
Germany may lack what Holland and Argentina have: a Messi or a Van Persie, that is, a proven goal scorer whose efficiency is very high. Miroslav Klose is not what he used to be, and Thomas Müller may be very adaptable, but he is not Gerd Müller. But you see a team plan when you watch the Germans. And you see a team who is meant to culminate in this tournament. Germany have individuals able to make the difference – Götze, Özil, Kroos – and at the same time they have a team unit based on organization (in defense) and patterns and automatisms (when attacking).
While (bad) luck will almost always play a significant role in knock out stages (just ask Chile and Pinilla), thus making it very difficult to predict a winner at this stage, my guess is that the Europeans will prevail because of their greater tactical acumen and collective ethos. Argentina and Sabella look planless, even with Messi. Brazil without Neymar, but on home soil, is a strong contender, but their game plan is a little too dependent on individual actions, a little too contingent. Germany look very strong and history is on their side – they do lack a real goal scorer, though. Holland with the tactical genius of Van Gaal, the speed and dribbling of Robben and the efficiency of Van Persie will be my bet on the next World Champions – even though history is not on their side.
Editor’s note: Søren Frank is author of Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, which is available from all fine booksellers.