Brazil vs Germany, a semifinal of unknowns
Brazil must overcome the massive blow dealt by the injury to marquee forward Neymar if they are to beat frighteningly consistent Germany on Wednesday to book a World Cup final spot on home soil.
Brazil, chasing a sixth world title, are still reeling from Neymar's injury in their quarterfinal win over Colombia, and the entire nation is holding its breath and hoping the team's chances have not been irreparably damaged.
Neymar, who scored four goals in the tournament, fractured a vertebra late in the game and will be out for the rest of the tournament, but for Brazil there is no alternative but to get to the final in Rio de Janeiro.
Any other result would be a national catastrophe for the country of 200 million football-mad fans, similar to the 1950 final defeat by Uruguay, also in Brazil.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be forced to reshuffle his team in two positions with captain Thiago Silva suspended for the game against opponents who have made a record fourth consecutive World Cup semifinal.
''We'll miss Neymar,'' team-mate Oscar said.
''Whoever comes in in his place has to play as part of the team and beat Germany.
''The best thing we do is play as a team and I just hope that whoever comes in plays well,'' the attacking midfielder said.
To play as well as Neymar is probably expecting too much of Willian, likely to be his understudy at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte tomorrow.
Neymar has netted 35 times in 54 games for Brazil, more than anyone else in the squad and Scolari has selected him for every one of the 27 matches he has coached since returning to manage Brazil for a second time in 2012.
But if anyone knows how to beat the Germans it's Scolari, who led Brazil to their most recent world title in 2002 with a 2-0 victory over Germany in the final in what is, surprisingly, the teams' only previous World Cup meeting.
The European heavyweights' consistency since then is nothing short of spectacular, coming back as title contenders every four years and making the semi-finals in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
However, what they have failed to do is lift a fourth trophy, stumbling at the penultimate hurdle each time.
Without a World Cup win since 1990 and an international title since Euro 96, the Germans are convinced they finally have a team that can deliver the killer punch.
''I can only urge you to go and reward yourselves,'' German football association president Wolfgang Niersbach told the players through the announcement system on board the airplane back from their 1-0 quarterfinal win over France.
''Reward yourselves by doing in this last week exactly what you have been doing so far. You have it in you and we all want to return again to the Maracana in Rio. Let's stick together because then we can land the big coup.''
Less exciting and less youthful than 2010 but arguably more efficient and experienced, the Germans did not need to fire on all cylinders against France, scoring an early goal and holding on to their lead with relative ease.
The backline with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels as central defenders worked like clockwork, eliminating most threats from France forward Karim Benzema, while their quick switch to attack also operated like a well-oiled German machine.
''We will now try to take that next step,'' coach Joachim Loew said.
''The team is strong and stable. In the past five tournaments (World Cups and Euros) we reached the semis. Now it's time at this semifinal to move a step further.''
Where: The Mineirao stadium, Belo Horizonte
When: NZT 8am Wednesday
Brazil: 12-Julio Cesar; 6-Marcelo; 23-Maicon; 13-Dante; 4-David Luiz; 17-Luiz Gustavo; 8-Paulinho; 19-Willian; 11-Oscar; 7-Hulk; 9-Fred.
Germany: 1-Manuel Neuer; 16-Philipp Lahm; 20-Jerome Boateng; 5-Mats Hummels; 4-Benedikt Hoewedes; 7-Bastian Schweinsteiger; 6-Sami Khedira; 18-Toni Kroos; 8-Mesut Ozil; 19-Mario Goetze; 13-Thomas Mueller
Remarkably, for two perennial powerhouses who have won eight World Cups between them, this is only the second time Brazil and Germany have met in this competition. In their previous game, Brazil won the 2002 final 2-0 thanks to two goals from Ronaldo.
Germany and Brazil are the joint third highest tournament scorers, with 10 each. They follow Colombia and the Netherlands on 12 goals each. Germany have scored eight goals from open play and two from set-pieces. Brazil have scored seven from open play and three from set-pieces.
Brazil are aiming for a sixth title after earning that record fifth in 2002, while Germany are hopeful of a fourth following a 24-year gap since their last World Cup trophy.
Germany's Thomas Mueller and Brazil's Neymar are joint second in the tournament top scorers' chart, on four goals each along with Argentina's Lionel Messi. Neymar, though, is injured and will play no more in this tournament. Colombia's James Rodriguez leads with six goals, but his team have been eliminated.
Germany's Philipp Lahm is the best passer of the tournament, with 408 passes completed with a success rate of 86.6 percent.
Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002
Germany won the World Cup in 1954, 1974 and 1990
The teams have played each other 21 times, with Brazil winning 12, Germany four, and five draws. In all those games, Brazil have scored 39 goals, Germany 24.
World Cup meetings
Their one previous meeting was in Yokohama, Japan, in the World Cup final on June 30, 2002. Brazil won 2-0.
Confederations Cup meetings
Brazil have beaten Germany twice in the Confederations Cup, 3-2 in Nuremberg, Germany in 2005 and 4-0 in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1999.
Brazil have won nine friendlies, lost four, and drawn five with Germany. Their last meeting was a friendly in Stuttgart, Germany, on August 10, 2011. Germany won that game 3-2.