Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not your mama's Brazil: The aftermath of Germany's rout

It was a beating of epic proportions; a smack down, a throttling, a whipping, a trouncing. No matter what you call it, Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals was stunning—stunningly good for the Germans and, almost more noteworthy, stunningly bad for the Brazilians. Brazil was at home, where no one expected them to lose; but they were also at home, with more pressure than has probably ever been on one team.

You see, Brazil is a soccer (or fotebol) nation and they expect to always win—especially at home. But tragedy struck the team in the quarterfinals when superstar forward Neymar was hit from behind and fractured a vertebra, rendering him unable to play the rest of the tournament. The team was in shock that their star was out; in fact, it is reported that the team was so "stressed" about losing him that they had a sports psychologist come speak with them.

Apparently it didn't work.

The Brazil that showed up, also down central defender Thiago Silva who was out on the accumulation of yellow cards (which is a whole other issue we can discuss another time), looked more like a mediocre college team than a world-class national team with five World Cup trophies. They were sloppy, slow and uninspired. Instead of rallying around the loss of their superstar, they imploded.

All things said, this 2014 Brazil team was far from their best. They didn't play o jogo bonito, or fotebol arte, that we've become accustomed to seeing from them. There was little beauty in their recent games; there were no Brazilian playmakers gracefully dancing and weaving around the competition and they had the most fouls of any team in the tournament through the quarterfinals. The result (winning), not the style, was all that mattered. For a nation and a national team that prides itself on beautiful, flowing and exciting soccer, this was not the team of their dreams.

The news has all been about how bad Brazil was; but one of the reasons they were so bad was their opponent played nearly flawless soccer. The Germans played a masterful game and even a healthy Neymar couldn't have stopped their relentless perfection. They created opportunities and took advantage of every opportunity given by Brazil (and there were many). The Germans score five goals in the first half — in just 18 minutes. They were fluid, aggressive and physical. The result was perhaps the most complete, and certainly the most dominant, game in World Cup history.

I, along with most of the world, always forgets how good Germany is; how good they've always been. This was the fourth World Cup semifinal they've made in a row and the second final in the last four, with this game their redemption to losing to Brazil in the 2002 finals—the only other time these two teams have met. In 18 World Cups, they have finished in the top four 13 times (including this year's yet-to-be-determined final result); they won it all in 1954, 1974 and 1990, they've been runners-up four times (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002), come in third four times (1934, 1970, 2006, 2010) and fourth once (1958). Impressive to say the least. Their striker, 24-year-old Thomas Mueller is playing in his second World Cup with 10 goals in 12 games, making him just the second player to score five goals in consecutive World Cup tournaments. The other? Mueller's teammate Miroslav Klose, who did it in 2002 and 2006.

Germany is a national team that historically, and currently, is a force to be reckoned with. If you  want to read about how and why the German national team is so good, I highly suggest you read this article: How Germany's 14-Year Plan Destroyed Brazil, it's fascinating.

In the aftermath of the bloodbath in Belo Horizonte, we expected objects thrown onto the field and riots to break out across Brazil as fans openly and unapologetically wept in the stands. But then something beautiful happened: at the conclusion of the game, the Brazilian fans stood and applauded the German side that had just embarrassed their team (and some would say their nation). The show of sportsmanship was unexpected and inspiring; it reminded us that this game, this beautiful game, is more important than any result. And though national pride is at stake, the love of the game itself is the final outcome.

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