Saturday, June 02, 2018

Greatest World Cup Matches: Brazil-Germany 2014

The semifinal between Brazil and Germany in the 2014 World Cup was, if anything, perhaps the strangest match ever, with a result that left the football world perplexed and Brazil on their knees. When Brazil won the hosting of the 2014 World Cup expectations were immediately enormous. Last time the greatest footballing nation on Earth had hosted the World Cup was in 1950, when they lost a traumatic final to Uruguay in what was remembered as “O Maracanazo”. Since then Brazil had won five World Cups, but the lack of winning it on home soil still lingered in Brazil's memories. So now was the time: this was to be not only the greatest World Cup ever, but would bring home the overwhelming superiority of Brazilian football. Brazil seemed to have reason to believe in their strength when they won the Confederations Cup rehearsal for the World Cup. Even though it had never been a priority for Brazil, the buildup of the World Cup made it crucial for the Brazilians to win at home, and a 3-0 final victory against the defending World Champions from Spain gave the Brazilians such an overwhelming confidence that some of the managers of Brazilian football, such as Carlos Alberto Parreira (managed the 1994 World Champions) and manager Luis Felipe Scolari, confidently announced that Brazil was on the way to winning the title. The squad on paper looked solid enough, as Brazil, as always had a selection of experienced players from Europe's biggest clubs: captained by the solid Paris SG defender Thiago Silva, who in defense had Chelsea's picturesque David Luiz, Barcelona's superstar Dani Alves as well as Real Madrid's offensive right left back Marcelo, and complemented by Bayern Munich's Dante and experienced players such as Maicon (Roma) and Maxwell (PSG). In midfield they had Chelsea's young star Oscar, his team mate Ramiro, Tottenham's Paulinho and Manchester City's Fernandinho. Not impressive, but experienced players to support the team's superstar, Barcelona's Neymar, whom all of Brazil was expecting to lead them to victory, despite the fact that Brazil side lacked quality strikers: Zenit St. Petersburg's efficient but inelegant Hulk and Fluminense's Fred were expected to put in the goals. Brazil were at this time not a team that had been playing the “Jogo Bonito” they had become famous for: they had won the Copa America in 2004 and 2007 playing a defensive and physical style, and in 2011 being eliminated in a strange penalty shootout where they missed all their penalties. In the 2010 World Cup Brazil made it to the quarterfinals, losing to the Netherlands more physical style, and so had not been impressive. Their Confederations Cup victory had been well-deserved but they were against a Spanish team that looked tired and burnt out (and confirmed the end of their greatest generation when they were eliminated in the following World Cup). The faith Brazilians had in their team was totally out of proportion with the quality, and as soon as the team started showing weaknesses, criticism and insecurity quickly made the confidence crumble. In their opening match Brazil had beaten Croatia 3-1, but were criticized for a non-existent penalty that got them started. In their second match they did not manage to impress in a 0-0 match against Mexico, and although they defeated Cameroon 4-1 in their last match, this did not take away the impression of a team that had eased their way through the first stages. In the last-16 Brazil faced a confident Chile side with one of its greatest generations, and as Chile were unlucky not to win, Brazil took a nerve-wrecking penalty victory. Colombia had been one of the best teams to watch in the tournament, and led by the elegant James Rodriguez, they looked to be able to upset the Brazilians. But Brazil came out to the match with one objective: stopped the rhythm of the Colombians and kick James in every occasion. It was one of the ugliest displays of any Brazilian team in history in a match where the referee completely failed. But it worked as the locals went ahead 1-0 by Thiago Silva, and then took a 2-0 lead on a splendid free kick by David Luiz. Although James got one back for Colombia, the Brazilians won. But there was a prize: the Colombians, without scruples to kick back on the Brazilians, took their revenge by a violent (and dangerous) kick to Neymar's back, taking him out for the rest of the tournament. Brazil's greatest star was out, and the team spent their time talking about how they would dedicate the title to Neymar, rather than concentrating on their next opponent: Germany.

Germany had been reforming its football since their weak appearances in 1998 and 2000. Despite their World Cup final in 2002, they were building up a young side for their 2006 hosting of the World Cup. Led by a team of young managers, many of them from Mainz and led by Jurgen Klinsmann, they were undertaking big changes to German football. Out was the focus on physical fitness and strength, and instead young players were being schooled on technique, ball possession and pressing football. In 2006 for the World Cup at home, the new team took over Germany with style: despite them not winning their positive style, their outgoing personality and their charm came to symbolize a new Germany for whom winning was not the most important, but who enjoyed the game. This new German side grew to become more competitive, and in 2008 made it to the Euro final only to lose to the best Spanish side in history. In the 2010 World Cup they made it to the semifinals, only to narrowly lose to Spain again, but with their young players looking better than ever, and in the 2012 Euro they made it again to the semifinals, losing to Italy. After qualifying in style, Germany certainly entered the tournament as one of the outsiders for the cup, although not as hyped as the Brazilian hosts, Messi's Argentina or Spain's defending champions. Manager Joachim Low, who had taken over the side from Klinsmann after the 2006 World Cup had been building up a squad of players that had played together for many years and besides understanding one another were really good friends. It included Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich as arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, behind a defense that included Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm, also from Bayern Munich Jerome Boateng, Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels, Arsenal's experienced Per Mertesacker, and Schalke 04's Benedikt Howedes, as well as a young Kevin Grosskreutz from Borussia Dortmund. The midfield was a pure luxury of youth and experience with Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteigger, Real Madrid's Sami Khedira, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, as well as Bayern Munich youngsters Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze. Also along was Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller who had been named best young player of the 2010 World Cup, and could plausibly play in almost any position, including attack. Although a versatile team, where players could play almost any position, the attack was led by two experienced veterans with Arsenal's Lukas Podolski and Lazio's Miroslav Klose, who was participating in his fourth World Cup and would go on to set many records in this World Cup. Germany opened the tournament with a stylish 4-0 trashing of one of the outsiders to the title, Portugal, where Thomas Muller scored three goals. In the following match against Ghana, Germany showed some defensive weaknesses in going down 1-2, but Miroslav Klose ensured a 2-2, making him the third player ever, alongside Pele and Uwe Seeler, to score in four different World Cups. In their last group match the Germans relaxed with a 1-0 victory over the USA. Despite making it to the next round Germany had shown some weaknesses with their high pressure and at times slow defense, and had to use all their quality to defeat a well-playing Algeria (who had wanted revenge for the 1982 scandal), being saved by a splendid Manuel Neuer playing as sweeper and a last minute of extra time victory goal by Mesut Ozil. In the quarterfinals the Germans had played an intelligent and solid match to defeat France 1-0, and were now to play the hosts of Brazil.

In the book “Das Reboot” the German players explain how they prepared for the match mentally; they knew they were up against a team under great pressure to have success at home, and that Germany could use this to their benefit. At the same time they expected to face a team that would give everything in front of their fans. As it turned out, the Germans were right on the first part, but wrong on the second. In the first half, as much as Germany were good, Brazil were disgracefully bad. The first goal, in the 11th minute, came when Thomas Muller was left completely uncovered for a corner kick. One could at this point have thought this was one of those typical mistakes that are punished by any quality team, but as the match progressed one could see that the Brazilian players were on another planet on that day. In the 23rd minute the German combinations tore apart a passive Brazilian defense and Miroslav Klose scored record goal beating Ronaldo to become the most scoring player in World Cup history. This started a complete Brazilian collapse: within six minutes Toni Kroos scored two goals and Sami Khedira one, to make it 5-0. All the goals were excellent combinations, and in particular Toni Kroos, who would be named Man-of-the-Match, played more as a Brazilian than any Brazilian.
As the home spectators were crying, the rest of the world could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was impossible to rejoice as one saw Brazil, a team everyone liked, being humiliated in such a resounding way. But as the first half ended with a 5-0 score, it was also impossible to wonder how Brazilians like David Luiz, Paulinho, Marcelo or Fred, were playing so dismally bad in a World Cup semifinal at home!? Most Brazilians in the world would have played better than what these guys did on that day!
Brazil were better in the second half, when there really was nothing more to play for and the Germans slowed down a bit. But when the Brazilians came forward, they encountered Manuel Neuer, who was the world's best goalkeeper. On the other hand, the Germans extended their lead: Andre Schurrle, who had come on for Miroslav Klose (clearly taking him out was not to spare Brazil), made it 6-0 and 7-0. The last goal was a spectacular strike worthy of any World Cup semifinal in Brazil.
Only in the last minute Oscar scored for Brazil. It mattered because it prevented the match from becoming Brazil's greatest defeat ever (so it only equalized their 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920). But it was a game of records anyway: the greatest scoreline in a World Cup semifinal and Brazil's greatest home defeat ever. With it, Germany surpassed Brazil to become the most-scoring World Cup team ever and made it to their record 8th World Cup final. In the meantime, this was the greatest humiliation Brazil ever suffered and lost Brazil their place as the greatest footballing nation of all time, an honour that surely belongs to Germany today.

Match Stats:
  • 8th July 2014, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte 
  • Attendance: 58,141 
  • Referee: Marco Rodriguez, Mexico 
Brazil-Germany 1-7
Goals: 0-1 Muller (11) 0-2 Klose (23) 0-3 Kroos (24) 0-4 Kroos (26) 0-5 Khedira (29) 0-6 Schurrle (69) 0-7 Schurrle (79) 1-7 Oscar (90)

Brazil: Julio Cesar; Maicon, David Luiz, Dante, Marcelo, Fernandinho (Paulinho, 46), Luiz Gustavo, Hulk (Ramires, 46), Oscar, Bernard, Fred (Willian, 70)
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels (Per Mertesacker, 46), Benedikt Howedes, Sami Khedira (Julian Draxler, 76), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose (Andre Schurrle, 58)

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