Germany’s slaughter of Brazil part of a much bigger story
This was not just a match but the most incredible result in World Cup history
Germany’s Toni Kroos celebrates with Miroslav Klose and Sami Khedira at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
On a shuttle bus in Fortaleza a couple of weeks ago I saw a famous former player who works in international football. He was chatting idly to a journalist but their conversation seemed to be petering out. After a long pause, inspiration struck the media man.
“Who do you want to win the World Cup?” The answer came almost immediately: “Who do I want to win the World Cup? Germany. Suits my story. Trust your youngsters.”
Some would find this a tiresome example of the media industry’s tendency to convert sporting events into grand narratives but it was pretty difficult not to see last night’s slaughter in Belo Horizonte as part of a much bigger story.
In a World Cup semi-final, in front of 50,000 of their own fans, Brazil suffered the worst defeat in their World Cup history to a masterful German side that at times looked almost embarrassed at how easy it was.
This was not just another match. It was the most incredible result in the history of the World Cup and we will be processing the lessons of what it had to tell us for many weeks and years to come.
The Brazilians had hoped that they could batter their way to a sixth World Cup employing a combination of intimidating emotional intensity allied to their concept of jeitinho, which can be understood as a sort of rascally invention, that can also become cynical cute-hoorism. It turned out to be no match for the grand organisational prowess of Germany in long-term planning mode. It would not be all right on the night.
For Germany, this moment of triumph has been in gestation for almost a decade and a half. Germany’s glorious present began to take shape after in their dismal performance at Euro 2000, when they took just one point in the group.
The reforms of the national football structure introduced in 2001 required all clubs in the first and second divisions in Germany to establish and maintain youth academies run according to centrally mandated criteria. The idea was to ensure that the next generations of Germany’s young talent would benefit from the best available coaching from the earliest possible stage of their careers.
We saw the glorious results of it last night at Belo Horizonte, when Germany’s cool control, smooth teamwork and fluid movement ripped repeatedly through the Brazilians.
Of course, the result would not have been possible without a kind of collective nervous breakdown among the Brazil team. The build-up to the match had been marked by more of the overwrought sentimentalism of the kind we have got used to over the last few weeks. During the anthem, belted out with stunning ferocity, David Luiz held aloft the number 10 shirt of the injured Neymar. Someone else had a placard saying that Neymar’s soul is with us.
The suspended Thiago Silva helped his team-mates to warm up, wearing a Força Neymar cap. He had said that his heart would be with his team-mates on the pitch, but unfortunately his heart was no substitute for his ability to mark up at set-pieces.
Brazil started here pumped up to emotional bursting point, and when Müller escaped the slack marking of David Luiz to volley Germany in front from a 10th minute corner, he provided the needle that punctured their thin membrane of self-belief.
What followed was not so much like a big balloon that goes pop as a hydrogen-filled Zeppelin that explodes in a fireball visible from space.
The game will be remembered primarily for the crazy spell between minutes 23 and 29 when the Germans ran in four goals. But even before then you could see the difference between Brazil’s desperate bluster and the smooth, practised familiarity of Germany’s movement.
Every time they broke through they seemed to be one step ahead, because they are a team that has spent years learning each others’s movement, being coached to exploit situations almost automatically. Whenever a break of a ball in midfield presented Germany with a chance, they zeroed in on Brazil’s goal in sophisticated formation, solving the problem with the effortless inevitability of Deep Blue playing tic-tac-toe.
Brazil were a collection of talented and not-so-talented individuals united only by a brittle desperation. The temperament of this German side had been questioned, in particular whether they had the guts to stand up to the fury Brazil would try to unleash at them, but they expertly turned Brazil’s own emotional energy against them.
The first Toni Kroos goal was a difficult strike with the outside of the left foot, yet it was smashed in with such casual conviction that it looked like a goal from the training ground.
That harpooned Brazil’s last hope of getting back in the match after just 24 minutes. Two minutes later, Kroos and Sami Khedira combined beautifully, spinning Dante around like a top as they weaved their way into the penalty area for a simple finish.
The astonishment around the stadium as Khedira ran in the fifth three minutes after that is something nobody present will ever forget. The Germans, however, might have been a little less surprised than everyone else. They understood that this miracle had been years in the making.