Formulas differ for World Cup finalists _lowres

Associated Press photo by Natacha Pisarenko Netherlands' Arjen Robben, left, struggles against Argentina's Javier Mascherano in a World Cup semifinal Wednesday.

The first half of the Brazil versus Germany semifinal was the most stunning 45 minutes of soccer that you will ever see. I’ve been following this sport for almost four decades and have watched games on all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica). I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

Going into the game, the Germans had been the tournament’s best country while the Brazilians had struggled and not shown the carefree samba skills of past teams. Many had predicted a victory for the Europeans.

But no one foresaw the utter carnage that unfolded.

The way Brazil buckled, reeled and then capitulated was astounding. This is the most successful soccer nation on the planet, and they were playing in their own backyard. They were humbled and humiliated as record after record tumbled before a disbelieving global audience.

Germany was ahead 5-0 inside half-an-hour. They inflicted Brazil’s first competitive home defeat in 39 years. It was their biggest World Cup loss ever. And the first time a team scored seven in a semifinal. Brazil didn’t even manage a shot on target in the first 50 minutes.

Germany netted as many goals in this semifinal as they had in their previous six added together. They scored two more goals in this game than England did in their past two tournaments combined. There were just 179 seconds between Germany’s second and fourth goals. Miroslav Klose became the World Cup’s record goal-scorer with 16 strikes in 23 games, and it barely rated a mention.

In contrast to that madcap match, the other semifinal on Wednesday between Holland and Argentina was the first in history to end goalless. There is so much riding on these contests that they are usually cagey and tentative, but even so this was the dullest I can ever remember.

It was billed as a battle between the two best players in the competition, but Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi were neutralized by their opponents’ defenses. Robben touched the ball only six times and attempted just one pass in the first half. Messi meanwhile did not even touch the ball in the Dutch penalty area during the entire 120 minutes.

But on Sunday the margin of victory in these matches counts for nothing as both countries take their place in the biggest single sporting event on Earth. Indeed the way the semis played out has lifted a great deal of pressure off the South Americans.

After that devastating performance Germany is now the heavy favorite. They have been the most impressive nation and are frighteningly clinical and ruthless in attack. André Schürrle hammered home two superb second-half strikes against Brazil, and he cannot even get into the starting 11. It’s no surprise that they outscored every European team in qualification.

The Argentinians on the other hand are here because they won five games by a single goal and the other on penalty kicks. Theirs is a success based on a disciplined and determined defense. Messi was anonymous in the semifinal and his supporting cast of forwards little better, and instead it was holding midfielder Javier Mascherano who was the man of the match for blocking and snuffing out the Dutch attacks.

The Germans will sweep the ball quickly and fluidly across the width of the field, and I think they will control possession and dictate the tempo. Argentina will probably be to contain and stifle, and often they will have 10 men behind the ball with Messi on his own upfront. Ironically coming into the competition their defense was seen as their Achilles’ heel, but in the three knockout rounds they stopped Switzerland, Belgium and Holland from scoring. It will be a fascinating bout as two soccer heavyweights prowl and jab and spar with each other.

Before the tournament I wrote that South Americans always win when the World Cup is in South America, but if the title is to leave the continent, then it will be headed to Germany. So I will claim to be right no matter what happens.

But if the Germans can replicate anything like the same level of performance that they produced against Brazil — and I think that they will — then we will see the trophy headed to Berlin.