What will decide who wins the 2014 World Cup?

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We take a look at the four remaining teams and assess their chances of World Cup glory

Well it’s been fun, but in six days, we’ll have to say farewell to a brilliant World Cup. It’s had everything: late drama, heroic goalkeeping, sensational goals, biting incidents, and the usual English disappointment. But who will be crowned world champions on Sunday evening at the Maracanã?

Four heavyweights – Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Holland – will be battling it out for glory, and it’s incredibly tough to call. Four sides with great strengths, but also clear weaknesses to exploit. So which captain has got the best chance of lifting the famous Jules Rimet trophy on Sunday night? Will Messi follow in Maradona’s footsteps? Can the Dutch finally win the title? Will the Germans prove efficiency is king? Or can the Brazilians triumph on home soil? Let’s take a look at the four contenders:

Brazil

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Has there ever been a more ordinary Brazilian side in World Cup history? The hosts have been hugely disappointing in their five matches so far, yet they have still managed to make the last four, thanks largely to the sensational home support, and their poster boy Neymar. The news that the 22-year-old will miss the remainder of the tournament with a spine injury was a dagger to the hopes of the nation, but they’re still breathing – albeit on life support. Influential captain Thiago Silva will also miss Tuesday’s semi-final against Germany after his needless yellow card against Colombia, leaving Brazil relying heavily on the wonderful Brazil fans to carry them into Sunday’s final.

They do still have plenty of quality, as shown with David Luiz’s stunning free-kick on Friday night, and in Willian and Dante they have able replacements for Neymar and Silva, but many fear that the Germans will be far too organised for them. A heroic performance is required from the hosts, and we should expect to see one from a group of players desperate to win for the fans, the country, the injured Neymar and themselves. Referees and crossbars have been kind to them so far, and if they’re going to win the cup for a sixth time, they’ll need that luck to continue for at least another 180 minutes.

Verdict? If they beat the Germans they’ll win it. But Joachim Löw’s men will prove too strong and break Brazilian hearts – 3rd place.

Germany

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The word efficiency has long been associated with the Germans, and once again we have seen why. Clinical when they need to be, tough defensively and mentally strong, Germany also boast the strongest squad in the tournament. Averaging two goals a game and only conceding three so far in their five matches, this is a side who have matured greatly over the last four years. When they beat England 4-1 in South Africa in 2010, we were watching a new crop of German talent hammer the final nail into our so-called Golden Generation’s coffin. At that time they were fearless and exciting, but were eventually undone by the brilliant Spanish in the semi-final. They’ve learnt from that experience, developed as individuals and as a team, and look ready for anyone.

They should be considered favourites against Brazil given their strength in depth and the hosts’ notable absentees, but they will need to show all their experience to deal with the intense atmosphere in Belo Horizonte. If they can keep the crowd quiet for the majority of the match, they should get the job done.

Verdict? If they can stay composed on Tuesday night, their maturity and talent should see them win the World Cup. Only one man can stop them… – Winners

Argentina

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Maradona’s brilliance in ’86 helped Argentina to their second and most recent World Cup win. 28 years later, and another man might be about to do exactly the same. Lionel Messi, whilst not quite hitting the heights that we’ve come to expect from him over the years, has shown glimpses of magic throughout the tournament. And that’s all Argentina need from him. Despite scoring four crucial goals in the group stages, and playing a big part in his side’s knock-out victories, you feel he still has an extra gear to go into should he need to. He’s on the verge of greatness, and it’s these big matches where he truly comes to life.

It’s harsh on Argentina’s other fine players to focus purely on the Barcelona man – the likes of Higuain, Lavezzi and di Maria (although injured for the Holland clash) are important attackers too, but they do rely heavily on Messi. Give him time and space, and he will hurt you. He only needs a second.

Holland will likely attack the Argentines on Wednesday, and that will suit Messi, who will stroll around casually, pedestrian, waiting for the right moment to pounce. And he will hurt the Dutch defence – there is no doubt about it – it’s just a case of whether Oranje can hurt the Argentina defence more.

If Messi puts in two exceptional performances on Wednesday and Sunday, Argentina may win the World Cup. But they are so reliant on him, it might be too much to ask. I wouldn’t put it past him though.

Verdict? Messi can win it for Argentina, but it might just be too tall an order for him – Runners up

Holland

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While Argentina have looked to Messi for inspiration on so many occasions during the tournament, Holland have looked to Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich forward has been in brilliant form, scoring three goals and winning that vital penalty against Mexico in the second round.

The Dutch have been highly entertaining from the word go, kicking off their tournament with a remarkable 5-1 win over reigning champions Spain, before beating Australia and Chile to top Group B. Their quarter final against Costa Rica wasn’t the routine victory that some may have expected – the central Americans defended magnificently to earn a penalty shootout, but the Dutch were too clinical in the end.

If Brazil have home support, Germany have ruthless efficiency and Argentina have Messi, then Holland have van Gaal. The master tactician has made several massive calls during the World Cup including the decision to bring Huntelaar on for van Persie against Mexico (who ended up scored the winning penalty), and most notably, the incredibly bold decision in the quarter final to replace keeper Jasper Cillesson with Newcastle’s Tim Krul for the penalties. It paid off – Krul made two saves to send Holland through to the last four.

Van Gaal will have to be tactically perfect against Argentina, balancing his side’s natural hunger to attack with the defensive discipline required to keep Lionel Messi at bay. If Holland stop Messi, they’ll stop Argentina, and could find themselves in another World Cup final. And once you’re there, you never know.

Verdict? Messi and Argentina will prove too strong for Holland’s defence – not even van Gaal can stop the magician – 4th place

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