By Peter Rutherford
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Dreadful defending cost Brazil dear yet again on Saturday as the World Cup hosts slumped to a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in a playoff for third place, underlining just how far the 'Selecao' have fallen down world soccer's pecking order.
Four days after a humiliating 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany that shocked the world and left home fans stunned and angry, the hosts' porous defense shipped three more shoddy goals in Brasilia, taking their tally for the tournament to 14.
Sixty-three games have now been played in Brazil and while there were fears protests and demonstrations could disrupt the tournament, the 2014 World Cup has been relatively trouble free.
Concerns that Russia's preparations for the 2018 version could suffer due to the political crisis in Ukraine were dismissed on Saturday by Vitaly Mutko, Russia's sports minister who is also a member of FIFA's executive committee.
"I can't see any major issues," he said in Rio de Janeiro. "It's a different subject and one that will not interfere in the preparations for the World Cup at all."
While home fans were left disappointed in Brasilia, raining boos down on the players after the final whistle, things could get much, much worse on Sunday with Argentina just one win away from lifting the World Cup at Brazil's sacred Maracana.
The prospect terrifies Brazilian soccer fans and they are certain to throw their support behind Germany in Sunday's final.
"Tomorrow, we will play the most important match of our lives for our country," Argentina captain Lionel Messi said in a message on facebook.
"Our people, the Argentineans, they have carried us here. But the dream is not over yet, tomorrow we want to win and we are ready."
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, who seems set to stand down after the final regardless of the result, says his side will have to play a flawless game if they are to beat Germany and lift the World Cup for a third time.
"From the physical, tactical and character points of view, Germany have always been extremely strong," Sabella told reporters on Saturday. "And now they have an elaborate style of play, with passes between lines, diagonal balls to the forwards.
"We need a perfect match to beat them."
If he does decide to leave, Sabella could deliver no better parting gift than winning the World Cup on the soil of their fiercest rivals.
'LIFE GOES ON'
His Brazil counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari is leaving his future in the hands of the country's soccer federation.
Scolari led Brazil to their fifth World Cup title in 2002 and has lost just four times in 29 matches since taking over in November 2012, but many fans have been calling for his head in the wake of Brazil's heaviest ever World Cup defeat on Tuesday.
"That has to be decided by the president of the confederation," Scolari told a news conference when asked about his future.
"When we started we had a deadline to make our jobs available at the end of the World Cup regardless of the result," added the 65-year-old.
"And that is exactly what we’re going to do with a final report for the president.
Whoever is tasked with the goal of taking Brazil back to the summit of world soccer faces a massive job.
Minus the mercurial talents of injured forward Neymar, Brazil look bereft of ideas and far short of the level needed to challenge the likes of Argentina and Germany.
Defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz were guilty of early mistakes on Saturday as the Dutch scored twice in 16 minutes, sparking fears of a repeat of Tuesday's 7-1 humiliation.
Goals from Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum secured third place for the Netherlands.
"Today’s match ... for us was the best way to end this tournament," said man of the match Arjen Robben. "We also fully deserved this third place the way we played this tournament.
"Nobody expected us to be in the last four."
The Netherlands suffered the heartbreak of a penalty shootout defeat to Argentina in Wednesday's semi-final, but Germany took note of the way they subdued four-times World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
Coach Joachim Loew is well aware of Messi's talents, though he will not let his players underestimate the rest of the team.
"This team is not just Messi and if you think that then you would be making a mistake," said Loew, who is eyeing Germany's first World Cup trophy in 24 years.
If Germany get their hands on the trophy they would be the first European team to win the World Cup on South American soil.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be at the Maracana to cheer on her countrymen on Sunday and knows Argentina will present a much stiffer task than Brazil did on Tuesday.
Asked to predict Sunday's score line, Merkel told German broadcaster ZDF, "I don't mind, so long as we win."
(Editing by Nigel Hunt)