RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — One thing for certain on Friday is that a South American team and a European team will secure their spots in the World Cup semifinals.
A pair of 22-year-old forwards who have been among the stand-out players of the tournament go head-to-head when Neymar’s Brazil takes on a James Rodriguez-inspired Colombia team that has won all four of its games so far. The host nation is relying on Neymar to deliver again, and keep Brazil on course for a sixth World Cup title.
Germany and France have had some memorable meetings in World Cup matches, and both are former champions. The current French team is vastly less experienced than Germany, which has reached at least the semifinals of each major competition since the 2008 European Championships. France is rebuilding and has not reached any semifinal since its run to the 2006 World Cup final, but is showing glimpses of great promise in Brazil.
What to watch on Friday:
BRAZIL vs. COLOMBIA
Brazil has had an unexpectedly difficult start to the tournament, while Colombia has been a convincing winner in its first four matches and has tallied 11 goals so far — second only to the Netherlands.
Brazil narrowly avoided elimination in the second round, edging Chile in a penalty shootout. Colombia beat Uruguay 2-0 to reach the quarterfinals for the first time. The Brazilians have reached the quarterfinals in six consecutive World Cups, but were eliminated at this stage in the last two and only go into this game as slight favorites due to home-ground advantage.
“It’s normal to have people demanding that we play better,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “But it’s also normal what we have been seeing in this World Cup so far.”
Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez has played an important role in the attack, scoring a tournament-leading five goals and creating many opportunities.
“We’re very happy because we are making history,” he said. “We want to do even more because this is a team that really wants to win.”
Colombia has beaten Brazil only twice — the last time in the 1991 Copa America — but the teams have drawn the last four matches they played.
Neymar has scored half of Brazil’s eight goals so far and is the key player for the host nation. He hurt is right knee in the Chile match, but team medical staff say he’ll be fit to play.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has all of his players available, but Scolari will be forced to make changes due to the suspension of defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo. Veteran striker Fred has been struggling so far in the tournament and may lose his place in the starting lineup.
Scolari said the attacking style Colombia will bring to the match should suit his Brazilian lineup, and expects it to unlock more opportunities. Colombia fullback Camilo Zuniga, who will have an important job in trying to contain Neymar, said Pekerman had “helped us believe in ourselves ... He drilled into our heads that a Colombian with the ball should have fun, that he shouldn’t have to play with pressure.”
Venue: Fortaleza. Kickoff 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. in New York, 9 p.m. London, 5 a.m. Tokyo)
GERMANY vs. FRANCE
The Maracana is where both teams hope to shake off uninspiring second-round wins that exposed some frailties.
Contesting a quarterfinal for the ninth straight World Cup, the Germans will start as slight favorites because of their experience but with doubts surrounding a slow, porous defense that was breached repeatedly in the 2-1 extra-time victory over Algeria on Monday.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was forced to play a sweeper role to ensure Joachim Loew’s lineup avoided a shocking defeat to the Algerians.
The French left it late against Nigeria, scoring twice in the last 11 minutes to win 2-0 in a gritty performance that didn’t live up to the attacking exhibitions they put on in the group stage.
Germany opened with a 4-0 victory over Portugal that immediately put them near the top of contenders for the title, but hasn’t reproduced anything close to being that clinical since.
Defense undoubtedly is Loew’s chief concern, although the probable return of Mats Hummels at center back after illness will make up for the loss of Shkodran Mustafi for the rest of the tournament with a left hamstring injury. On the eve of the match, Loew said seven of his players had been struggling with sore throats and illness, but he predicted all would be available for selection.
Veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose may get another chance to break the World Cup scoring record of 15 goals that he shares with Brazil great Ronaldo. Klose is likely to start on the bench behind Thomas Mueller.
There may be a change in the center of France’s defense, with Mamadou Sakho available again after a hamstring problem. There’s also speculation over who will partner with Karim Benzema in attack, with Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann in consideration.
Any time France and Germany meet, memories are revived of their famous clash in the World Cup semifinals in 1982 when West Germany came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 and win the shootout. In that game, West Germany goalkeeper Toni Schumacher rushed out of his area and broke the jaw of Patrick Battiston with a feet-first tackle that was not punished.
West Germany also beat France 2-0 in the 1986 World Cup semifinals, but France has won four of its six matches since German reunification in 1990.
Venue: Rio de Janeiro. Kickoff 1 p.m. local time (noon in New York, 5 p.m. London, 1 a.m. Tokyo)