Hello Germany. Are you quite done scoring on Brazil yet? You are? Great. Can I have a word?
Your job is not done.
I realize this makes me the bartender who cuts you off when you’re feeling at the peak of your evening, but I assure you that when you sober up, you’ll come to the same conclusion. What happened Tuesday was a lot of fun for followers of die Nationalelf, even if it was almost impossible to fathom that it was actually happening. Once the goals started coming, they came at a pace that made you wonder whether Brazil weren’t pulling some sort of prank.
“Psych! The real match isn’t for another hour!”
Turns out, it very much wasn’t a prank. One of the most-cherished pairings in World Cup history quickly became a match that is going to be remembered less for how great the victor played and more for how the winningest nation in World Cup history saw their national side wilt in front of a raucous home crowd, leading to a stunning 1:7 defeat that will haunt Brazil for a long, long time.
Brazil had hoped that the 2014 tournament would be an opportunity to exorcise their most-famous ghost. The “Maracanazo” is the nickname given the final match in the last World Cup tournament hosted by Brazil, which saw the hosts blow a one-goal lead to Uruguay and lose 2:1. With Sunday’s final match taking place at the Maracana Stadium, it would have been the perfect opportunity for closure to this long-open wound.
The irony is that Tuesday’s decimation at the hand of Germany may have chased away the 1950 poltergeist and replaced it with something much more foreboding.
But Germany didn’t go to Brazil to help their hosts deal with such things. And while the players may have hoped for the opportunity to meet Brazil in the Brazil World Cup as a piece of footballing fantasy, neither meeting, nor defeating, the five-time world champions on their home turf during the world’s biggest sporting event was the end goal for Germany in making the trip across the Atlantic.
Again, the job is not done . . . but you can see completion from here if you start looking.
This match will, in all likelihood, go down as the defining moment of the tournament, but if Germany hopes to be a champion and remembered as the great team that destroyed Brazil on their way to greatness, they will have to put all of today on the shelf for a few days and get ready to deal with the victor in Wednesdays Netherlands-Argentina match. Right now, the opponent will seem completely irrelevant in the shadow of what Germany accomplished today, but if this team blinks, they might find themselves looking a bit like Mesut Özil did late in the match when he had Germany’s eight goal before him for the taking, only to push the ball past the wrong side of the post.
Moments later, Oscar got onto the end of a long ball and put Brazil on the board. As far as the result for today goes, it was utterly meaningless, but the potential for symbolism in a last-minute faltering for Germany is huge. If Özil scores there, or even plays the ball across to the wide-open Andre Schürrle for a near sure thing, well, honestly it would have been just another goal, though likely the one that helped preserve the shutout we didn’t know was in need of preservation.
Instead, hindsight now makes it look like the absence of a crushing, final blow. Granted, if Germany gets staked to another seven-goal lead Sunday, we’ll be okay with a late-match series of blunder to surrender a goal, but that’s not something anyone should be planning for.
The job of preparing the team mentally for Sunday by making them forget how great they looked Tuesday obviously falls to coach Joachim Löw. Whatever your opinion of the Bundestrainer coming into the tournament or even into the semifinal, you have to credit him with having played some fascinating psychological games with Brazil heading into the match.
Löw, as well as assistant Hansi Flick and even some of the players, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, took some time in the days preceding the match to talk about a united Brazil, players and fans, rallying behind the loss of their captain Thaigo Silva due to yellow cards and their biggest offensive threat, Neymar, to injury. Clearly, the Germans were aware of the atmosphere they were about to enter.
Always somewhere near the praise for what Brazil had the potential to do Tuesday, though, was also a public plea for match officials to curb Brazil’s physical play. It may well be that the plan was, indeed, to get Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez to put a stop to the “brutal” play Brazil had exhibited thus far in the tournament. Certainly, were the cards to come out early and often, it would remove the physical element of Brazil’s success so far.
Yet, what if that message was intended for the Brazilian players? Is is possible that Löw figured he could dangle that message out there for this united Brazil force and maybe convince them to drop some of the physicality, not out of fear of repercussions from officiating decisions, but to remind Brazil of their footballing identity? Maybe lure them into reverting into a less-physical and more-technical and visually appealing style for which the nation is well known, but had not really been part of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup run? After all, if Brazil were going to overcome the absence of a few players by rallying around themselves, what better way to do it, especially considering that having a fellow giant of world football as the opponent set the stage for an all-time battle?
We may have to wait for Löw’s post-retirement autobiography to know all the moving parts of his pre-match messaging, but when both Brazil and Germany were running wild and free up and down the pitch for the first ten minutes of the match, it looked a lot more like a theoretical idea of Germany-versus-Brazil in a World cup than the match you might have anticipated from having watched the two sides play in the tournament to date.
And, clearly, advantage Germany.
“We must now have humility and prepare ourselves calmly for the final,” warned Löw after the match, already moving past the historic night in favor of the big prize. “Nobody has ever become world champion in the semifinal.”
So, as difficult as it is, everyone needs to forget about all of it. Forget all the great performances, of which there were many. Forget about Miro Klose now holding the record for most World Cup goals scored. Forget that Thomas Müller is scoring at a Gerd Müller-esque pace. Even forget that you were right about Germany needing Philipp Lahm back in the defense. Forget seven goals. Forget the dominance. Forget everything.
Let Sunday’s opponent think on all that as the final approaches. It’s safe to say that either side will arrive to the final as an underdog to Germany, at this point. Of all the things either Argentina or Netherlands will be considering, add to it that they won’t want to suffer the sort of humiliation Brazil just did.
Beyond that, though, nothing that happened in Belo Horizonte will be of much use between now and Sunday. Remember, this is Germany’s fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals, but because you don’t get trophies for reaching the semifinals, this right now is no more an accomplishment than the prior three tournaments in which Germany came away empty-handed.
Or, to quote Manuel Neuer . . .
“This result is very extreme, but the final begins at zero-zero.”
While it’s been fun to be on the right side of such a match and tempting to live in the wake of such a spectacular success for a while longer, it’s time to remember that this was just the latest task in a not-yet-complete job.
So, let’s get back to work on finishing this.