And then there were four. We find ourselves less than a week from crowning another world champion in world football and we're down to four of international football's biggest names - Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands are the only ones standing in a World Cup that defied the script and provided nothing but high drama, against-the-grain results, and excitement.
Today, the first semi-final match will feature the hosts - the Seleção of Brazil - will take on the most ruthlessly efficient team left in the tournament - Die Mannschaft of Germany. For the Germans, this afternoon's match is another step in their relentless march toward a fourth World Cup title. Following an business-like win over their perennial rival (on and off the field) France, 1-0, thanks to a Mats Hummels header in the 13th minute, the Germans come into this game healthy and ready. With a front line led by Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller (tied with Messi and Neymar at four goals, second behind only Colombia's James Rodriguez), the Germans have the attack (with Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, and Mesut Özil to cause problems for a Brazilian defense missing its captain and stalwart.
For the Brazilians, their 2-1 victory over Colombia (goals by Thiago Silva in the 7th minute and David Luiz in the 69th minute) game at an extremely high cost - captain and starting CB Thiago Silva will watch his nation take on the Germans from the sidelines following a yellow card in the quarterfinal that makes him not eligible for the semi-final. More concerning for Scolari's squad will be the loss of Brazil's great young prodigy, Neymar, who is nursing a serious back injury after being hit from behind in the Colombia match. Bayern Munich's Dante is expected to step in for the suspended captain and there's probably no other defender better suited to know the Germans' tendencies in attack. But, without Neymar, can the Brazilians produce anything through the misfiring Hulk and less-than-inspiring Fred? Chelsea's attacking midfielder Oscar will need to do more than ever to help generate something for a team that was often over-reliant on their star forward. If there was ever a time that Lucas Moura and Alexandre Pato's failures to hit the heights many expected of them has been keenly felt, it is now - with their country's chances for a World Cup at home on the line and Neymar out, had either panned out as expected, Brazil might not be in this predicament.
The game will kick off at 1 p.m. PST on ESPN in Belo Horizonte. Destiny awaits one of these two great football powerhouses - but for who? Both teams carry the weighty expectations of nations looking to rectify World Cup disappointment - for the Germans, many feel that their fourth World Cup should have been won on home soil in 2006 (under now United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann) and 2014 offers a perfect opportunity to rectify that shortcoming. For the Brazilians, their nation has been waiting since 1950 to rectify their failure to win the World Cup on home soil. For all of their accomplishments since (a record five World Cup wins), they have never won the biggest prize in front of their home fans.
Our boys in Red, White, and Blue are out of the tournament, but the road to the World Cup in 2018 begins now, plus we have the CONCACAF Gold Cup to prepare for next summer, followed by us hosting the 100th edition of the Copa America during the summer of 2016. So, if you came out for the Yanks for the World Cup, stick around for a while - it won't be much longer before our boys are back and fighting for trophies for the Stars and Stripes.
Alright folks, it's time to tune in and see who will take one more step closer to lifting the world's most coveted team trophy. This is your first semi-final World Cup open thread, so fire away with your thoughts, analysis, and opinions as you tune in today to watch Seleção versus Die Mannschaft.