It was a defeat that many had seen coming. Lacklustre in the group stages and a little fortunate in each of their two previous knockout matches, this had not been the Brazil team that the country had promised itself for this tournament. The nature of Brazil’s capitulation at the hands of Germany last night, however, was a jolt to the system for everybody who witnessed it. Unbeaten at home in competitive football since 1975, Brazil were humbled in front of their own crowd by a team that handed down a salutary lesson in how to play the game. This wasn’t merely a loss. This was an abject debacle of a performance from a team whose flaws were held under the most glaring of spotlights.
Perhaps they thought they could get through it by chutzpah alone. There certainly seemed to be something odd in the air in Belo Horizonte last night from the moment that the team took the pitch, from the holding up of Neymar’s shirt to the neck- bulging way in which the players roared their way through the national anthem, but no amount of hubris could cover up the critical weaknesses which allowed the German attack to cut so incisively through their defence. By half-time, the watching global audience was more than aware that it was in uncharted territory. Brazil, at home in a World Cup semi-final, were five goals down. And whilst the team, in the manner of one which actually might have thought that all it needed to do was turn up in order to fulfil what many may well have considered to be its destiny, rallied a little at the start of the second half, the final score of seven-one was one which accurately reflected the paucity of the hosts’ performance.
In the days leading up to this match, much had been made of the loss of Neymar following his injury during their quarter-final match. In a football culture that has come to increasingly resemble celebrity culture in recent years, this is probably unsurprising. It was, however, the team’s second absentee, captain – and, on the evidence of last night, the only professional footballer on Brazil who can actually defend – Thiago Silva who proved to be the biggest loss of all. Without this player, the house of cards that the Brazilian defence had been tumbled to an inevitable demise. Even the first goal, which saw Thomas Muller allowed the freedom of Belo Horizonte six yards from goal from a corner, demonstrated this. Time and time again, there was shirking from challenges and players hopelessly out of position as German players swarmed all around them. And amid all of this chaos, there didn’t seem to be one Brazilian player who would or could step up and take responsibility for this shambles. It wasn’t just Thiago Silva’s defensive capabilities that Brazil missed so painfully last night. His leadership skills were also notable by their reasonably obvious absence.
Such was the magnitude of this thrashing, however, that it becomes difficult to imagine that even the absence of these two players could have made that much of a difference to a heavy defeat. And to focus too closely on the absence of Silva and Neymar also detracts from what was ultimately a flawless performance from Germany, who were slick, direct and attractive to watch. For much of the last six decades, both West Germany and Germany have been amongst the World Cup’s most consistent performers, but the team’s performance last night was truly one for the ages and coach Joachim Loew, who hasn’t been without his detractors during his time in charge of the team, deserves all the plaudits that he has received since the full time whistle blew last night. If there is to be a concern of any sort over his team’s performance last night, it can only be the niggle that it is plausible that it has peaked a game too soon, but as concerns go, it feels as though this is a somewhat trifling one.
Perhaps now is too soon to fully be able to take in a result of this magnitude. Maybe only the passage of time will render an appropriate amount of context to what came to pass in Belo Horizonte last night. As Brazil awakens this morning, there may well be many millions of people who imagine the events of yesterday evening as a bad dream until they switch on their television sets, switch on their PCs, or open a newspaper. How will Brazil, a country that draws its sense of national self-identity from football in way that no other nation on this entire planet, react to it all? Things could well get even uglier than they looked last night before the sun starts to rise again on its national football team. After a week during which it started to feel as if the 2014 World Cup might even be starting to run out of steam a little, drama returned with a vengeance last night. The people of Brazil must surely today be wishing that this were not so.
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