European powerhouse in cautious approach to Brazil
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AFP) — Germany will meet tough-tackling Brazil head-on when football's titans clash in today's World Cup semi-final with the host nation desperate to win the title for injured superstar Neymar.
Joachim Loew's Germany want to avenge their 2002 final defeat to Brazil by knocking the hosts out in Belo Horizonte to reach Sunday's final in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil are forced into a reshuffle without play-maker Neymar and suspended captain Thiago Silva as they look to realise dreams of a sixth title on the home soil of the Maracana.
The entire nation laments Neymar's misfortune after the 22-year-old fractured a vertebra in Friday's uncompromising quarter-final win over Colombia, but the Germans wish he was fit to face them.
"It's always better when the opponents have all their best players, besides it'll bring the (Brazil) team together and they'll want to win the title for him (Neymar)," said Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Brazil paid the price for their rough treatment handed out to James Rodriguez as Colombia met fire with fire before Juan Zuniga's challenge on Neymar left the Selecao star in hospital.
"Neymar sets the standard for us. He is capable of deciding any game, so playing without him will be difficult," said Willian.
"We know the quality that we have. We are all very sad at losing him but we are now even stronger after what happened and we can continue to pursue our dream."
The 25-year-old Chelsea midfielder or Bernard are prime candidates to replace Neymar against Germany.
Schweinsteiger kicked off the mind games on Sunday by insisting the referee must pay close attention to the Selecao, who made 59 fouls in the last two matches, compared to the Germans' 29 in the same period.
"The Brazilians here aren't the magicians of old, the team has changed and so has their playing style," said Schweinsteiger.
"Hard challenges are definitely a part of their game, it's something we have to be careful of and the referee, too."
Remarkably for two World Cup powerhouses with 24 semi-final appearances between them, this will be just their second meeting in the competition after the 2002 final.
"It's an honour and a challenge to play against the hosts, but it would have been better to play Brazil in the final," said Schweinsteiger.
"It doesn't matter how much experience you have, to play the hosts in this football-crazy country is something special."
Having already equalled Brazil legend Ronaldo's record of 15 goals at World Cup finals, veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose can become the competition's sole top-scorer by netting against Brazil.
The 36-year-old started up front in Germany's 1-0 win over France in the quarter-finals with Thomas Mueller switched to the wing.
With Silva set to miss out, Germany could well face Brazilian centre-back Dante, which could help both sides, according to his Bayern Munich team-mate Schweinsteiger.
"I hope he starts, we know him very well and know his strengths and weaknesses, but he also knows how we play," said Schweinsteiger.
Germany are desperate to end their 24-year wait for a fourth World Cup title, while Loew's side are determined to avoid a defeat which would mean the third-place play-off -- for the third consecutive time.
"I really do not need that, that's something I want to rule out," joked captain Philipp Lahm, who was on losing teams in semi-finals at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals.