European teams were faced with a mountain to climb in Brazil 2014, but both the Netherlands and Germany look increasingly formidable as the tournament progresses.
Netherlands scrape through
Netherlands were admittedly lucky to reach the last eight, scraping through against Mexico in injury time.
The heat looked to be taking its toll on a tired Netherlands, with temperatures on the touchline reaching 38, but despite fears that the South American climate could prove too much for players from milder countries, Netherlands marched on.
The last-16 tie with Mexico saw the first appearance of ‘cooling breaks’ at this World Cup, but as neither Brazil nor Argentina have looked particularly impressive, it looks increasingly likely that for just the third time in the competition’s history, the trophy could be won by a team from a continent other than the one on which it is being contested.
Two of the strongest teams
With Spain, Portugal, and Italy all falling at the first hurdle, Germany and Netherlands lead the way from Europe. However, neither side has cruised up until now. Germany’s first stumble came in the 2-2 draw against Ghana in the group stage, while Netherlands' limitations were exposed against Mexico.
Nonetheless, in such a World Cup as this one, the ultimate winners will undoubtedly be tested at some stage. Though Netherlands failed to deliver their mesmerising brand of ‘total football’, they found a way to win while not at their best.
Wesley Sneijder had been criticised for failing to make an impact in the early stages, but roared to life with Netherlands' equaliser in the 89th minute. Louis van Gaal’s men showed immense character to come from 1-0 against Mexico, having fallen behind to a Giovani dos Santos screamer.
Parting gift for Van Gaal?
It remains to be seen whether they can give him a parting gift before he leaves to take charge of Manchester United, but key men Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie have lit up their progress so far, the latter’s flying header one of the goals of the tournament in their 5-1 win over Spain.
Van Gaal also managed a stroke of tactical genius, raising eyebrows when taking off Van Persie, only for substitute Klaas Jan-Huntelaar to score the winner from the penalty spot. There are certainly many strings to the Dutch bow.
Likewise, Germany can rely on legend Miroslav Klose, who recently equalled the Brazilian Ronaldo’s record as the World Cup’s all-time top scorer with 15. However, he faces competition as Germany’s star man, as man of the moment Thomas Muller keeps up his phenomenal record of nine goals in nine World Cup games.
Germany are overwhelming favourites to reach the quarter finals, facing minnows Algeria on Monday evening. While Netherlands reached yet another unsuccessful final in 2010, Germany also found South Africa to have come too early for them.
This time round, though, even the soaring Amazonian heat may not be enough to stop their respective progress to the final.