Futbol's Final Four

by Sebastian Li

Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

As the end of the World Cup draws near, only four teams remain in the competition. Tomorrow, Germany and Brazil face off for the right to advance into the Finals. The following day, Argentina and the Netherlands will play for those same rights. Both of these games look like great matchups, especially considering the way all these teams have played in the tournament thus far.

Players’ performances in the World Cup tend to garnish the attention of clubs throughout Europe, and clubs will certainly spend money to secure the services of a new player. Colombia’s James Rodriguez, still leading the scorers’ table with six goals, has already been linked with a $90 million transfer to Manchester United after his blistering performance in the World Cup. With only the semifinals and the finals left, there are only a few players who might just catch his total.

One of the prime candidates to catch him was Neymar until a freak injury in the last game. Currently tied with Neymar are Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller with 4 goals. Other hopefuls are Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, who each have three goals to their name. In order to catch Rodriguez, however, all of these players will have to be the difference maker for their squad in the games ahead.

Rather than using goals scored or salaries to compare the remaining teams to one another, it’s also possible to look at approximate transfer values. It’s important to remember that these values are not only projections, but also change by position. Providing less excitement and entertainment, defenders are worth notably less than their attacking counterparts. For example, PSG paid a staggering $86 million for David Luiz’s services this summer (the release clause of his Chelsea contract was worth approximately $68 million) while Real Madrid has launched a bid worth more than $100 million for the hungry though markedly troubled Luis Suarez. With that being said, let’s have a look at some projected starting lineups and their values:

Data from transfermarkt.com

Data from transfermarkt.com

Here is Brazil’s projected lineup without Neymar. Replacing Neymar ($68 million) in the starting lineup is Chelsea’s Willian, who has only played in three out of Brazil’s five games - each time appearing as a sub. The suspension of Thiago Silva, worth approximately $54 million, also cost the Brazil team dearly on paper. Though it may be little consolation for losing arguably the best defender in the world, his replacement Dante is likely the most experienced member of the Brazilian team when it comes to facing German opposition simply by practicing with Bayern Munich.

Germany, on the other hand, has experienced limited injuries or suspensions. Perhaps resting in a resort for the tournament does indeed have it’s perks. Here’s how the Germans look:

Data from transfermarkt.com

Data from transfermarkt.com

Once again, the money signals an advantage for Germany. Even when playing Thiago Silva and Neymar, there’s a difference of about $70 million in total and $6 million on average. Interestingly, when looking at the entire roster Brazil actually has the more valuable squad. But let’s focus on those expected to be on the field.

The most notable difference is that between keepers: Julio Cesar ($5.4 million) and Manuel Neuer ($40.7 million). The German could be the best goalkeeper in the world at this moment, so his price tag is not entirely surprising. On the other hand, Julio Cesar has been playing in Toronto on loan from his parent club Queens Park Rangers, where manager Harry Redknapp instead chose to stick with the honorable Robert Green. While Cesar has impressed at the World Cup, it’s undeniable that his club career and value have stagnated with age.

Another issue for Brazil will be dealing with losing star players on the fly - Oscar’s creative force basically needs to be on full display for what remains of the World Cup. A legitimate complaint about Brazil’s campaign might be that they’ve been forcing the ball to Neymar a bit more than necessary, so perhaps Neymar’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the host nation. Brazilians may also hope that their attacking wing backs, Dani Alves and Marcelo, will be able to spread out the German defense and force opportunities to appear.

If the values of these two teams seem lopsided to you, try looking on the other side of the bracket. In the matchup between the Netherlands and Argentina, one team has a distinct advantage when it comes to value.

Argentina2.png

Argentina’s lineup inches up towards Germany's, but doesn't quite manage to catch up despite Leo Messi’s massive value. Kun Aguero has also proved himself a master goalscorer, often using his creativity to fashion something out of nothing. Additionally, Di Maria and Lavezzi have made names for themselves as wingers full of trickery and pace.

While Messi’s value does inflate the entire team, any Argentinian who sees the field on this stage is more than capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. Despite his previous struggles away from Barcelona, Messi has proved his merit on the national squad this year by coming through in the clutch to push Argentina through the tournament more than once. With only three players valued at below $20 million, this Argentine team is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

Well, it seems teams with lower values are indeed capable of progressing. But how exactly has this Dutch team managed to defy the numbers? A disgustingly talented but aging core: Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, and Robin Van Persie are all playing in their third World Cup together. The younger players, especially the Feyenoord defenders, have been proving themselves valuable assets throughout this year’s World Cup. Through the rest of their careers, however, they’ve been incapable of proving their value against top competition when playing in the Dutch league. As logic might dictate, playing well in a weaker league doesn’t mean quite as much as playing well in a stronger league.

Despite their inexperienced defenders, Holland has been sharing the ball well and scoring at an extremely high rate, though their 12 goal total is certainly bolstered by their initial 5-1 victory over Spain. Keep in mind, the leading Dutch goalscorers in Robben and Van Persie have only 3 a piece. Their matchup with Argentina brings them against equally talented opposition on the attacking end; perhaps a bit more than they can handle defensively.

So long as both of these teams come out and play to win with the offensive guile they’ve been gifted with rather than hunkering down to win a defensive struggle, this makes for one of the most exciting matchups of the World Cup so far. The sheer amount of offensive talent that could be sharing the pitch on Wednesday is mind boggling. Considering the value of Argentina and their advantage that logically follows, they are almost a sure shot by value. However, the undying creativity present throughout the Dutch attack is more than enough to level out the playing field.

Ultimately, these games will open the door for only two of these teams to the most coveted of trophies. Is it possible for Holland to defy the numbers and win its first World Cup since the competition began in 1930? Perhaps Thomas Mueller will claim the golden boot for the second World Cup in a row. Or maybe Messi will lead Argentina to their first World Cup since the days of Diego Maradona. Or will Brazil be the next host nation to hoist the World Cup since France in 1998? Sit back, tune into these games, but most of all mourn the loss of Paul the Octopus to find out.