Despite only really playing well against 10-man Portugal, they were eking out the results and never really looked in danger of defeat, even when pushed all the way by Algeria in the last 16. You just had a feeling they hadn’t stepped out of second gear.
Turns out Germany are not a car, but a thundering heavy vehicle, with about a dozen gears hitherto untouched.
I was fortunate enough to bear witness to this human sacrifice in Belo Horizonte.
I don't need to tell you about how easily they ripped Brazil to pieces, about how – having played an energy-conserving, short-passing, tempo-dictating Spanish style previously – Joachim Loew’s side reverted to type, shredding Brazil on the counter attack at will after Thomas Mueller had edged them ahead.
I don’t need to tell you how Miroslav Klose broke Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record with a simple finish as Brazil over-committed; I don’t need to tell you about Sami Khedira’s bounding, dominant midfield performance, although I will mention that he had been tipped to be dropped after not showing his usual energy post-injury.
We don’t need to know any more about Toni Kroos’ expertly taken brace, and the faint sense of embarrassment with which Germany appeared to celebrate their fifth first-half goal, while fans and staff entered a state of mild delirium.[READ ALL OF REDA’S WORLD CUP BLOGS]
You can even forget about the sixth and seventh goals, scored by substitute Andre Schuerrle, who must be wondering what he has to do to earn a start in this team-machine.
What I will tell you is that emotion – and the use, conservation and management of it – was a decisive factor in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday night.
In my view, Brazil had already lost the match when Neymar was injured. Not because the Selecao had lost their best player – although that will always have an impact – but because the way his absence had been handled was over-dramatic, childish, bordering on the absurd.
Before the match I had expressed reservations at how the Brazil team, and particularly coach, had controlled the situation. In its immediate aftermath anger, sadness, a sense of injustice are all understandable. But Luiz Felipe Scolari, aka Felipao, wouldn’t stop harping on about Neymar in his pre-match press conference, three days after the injury.Bernard – given the job of replacing Brazil’s star player – enter the match knowing that he was a shock selection, probably just for the benefit of his hometown fans,
And when the team arrived at the stadium, seeming relaxed as they samba-danced on the bus, I did wonder why all – including the manager – wore ‘forca Neymar’ baseball caps. He wasn’t dead, or stricken with a terminal illness: he’s out for four to six weeks with a back injury, for Willian’s sake. Fans wearing Neymar masks are understandable, but the players were distracted from the job in hand.
One of the most emotive spectacles at this World Cup has been the singing of the national anthem by the home fans. Not just for the volume and the pride with which it is belted out, but because they continue to sing – en masse – long after the music has stopped. A cappella, if you like. Stirring.
The nature of Estadio Mineirao amplified that further – a proper little cauldron of a stadium, bursting at its 62,000 capacity, a ground that would probably only be allowed to hold 40,000 in the UK.
By the end they were chanting offensive ditties about Dilma Roussef, as if Brazil’s premier had anything to do with the on-pitch shambles that has ended an otherwise festival of football in the host nation.
Initially it started promisingly for Brazil, as they went for the jugular in search of an early goal. Naïve, maybe, but it’s what the fans wanted.
Germany could easily have been overwhelmed by the occasion. But, being Germans, they kept their cool, resisted the early attacks, and grew into the match as the irrepressible Khedira saw a crashing volley blocked by his own team-mate.
Khedira was supposed to have lost his place to Christoph Kramer, with the Real Madrid midfielder deemed to be lacking a physical edge after his serious knee injury. But he was bounding about like an unmuzzled Alsatian, defenders bouncing off him as he abandoned his holding role to race down the right, left, and middle.
It was a cracker, challenges flying in, caution to the wind, in a febrile atmosphere. As is often the way in semi-finals, it was approached as a match where neither had anything to lose.
And it was Germany who took the lead, through that man Mueller, as ubiquitous as his namesake of old. There was a touch of the Gerd about his poached, close-range finish from Kroos’ corner. The marking was so terrible he didn’t even need to ease into any space created by Klose, chasing his record goal but employed to give Mueller freedom to roam. No concentration – overwhelmed as they were by emotion.
The home fans responded with even louder chants, and Brazil continued to go for it. Naïve? Perhaps. Entertaining? More so than at any point this tournament.
But the team were obviously blinded by their grief. Marcelo, who helped his stricken team-mate immediately after his injury, lost his head when the subject of an excellent tackle by Philipp Lahm. His team had earned the corner, and there was no foul – save it for when it’s worth it.
Germany, meanwhile, knew they couldn’t sit tight on possession, not in this atmosphere – so they did what we have wanted them to do all tournament, and played a crisp, quick, counter-attacking game. And they were loving it, Khedira thriving in his box-to-box role, and Klose lurking with intent whenever Germany broke.
It was written that he should break Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup record, one which he had equalled at these finals. And the Polish-born Lazio forward did just that, rolling the ball home at the second time of asking after another speedy break.
It was 2-0, barely midway through the first half, and Brazil – overcome with this misplaced sense of grief – collapsed.
Khedira, Kroos twice, further chances… it was all a bit of a blur. The home fans, who raised the volume after the first and continued to cheer even after the second, were now muted: most were silent, some attempted to raise chants in vain, some just left. Most jeered at half-time, their team down and out, 5-0 down after a wounding 45 minutes.
Sure, there was no Neymar, no Thiago Silva, but five? FIVE?
Some made their way home at the interval. Miss the rush, get back in time for tea.
Brazil fans leaving early pic.twitter.com/LImIrja27k
— Reda Maher (@Reda_Eurosport) July 8, 2014
The second half was a fait accompli, an opportunity for Germany to rest their legs and for remaining fans to load up on overpriced hot dogs and FIFA beer.
Manuel Neuer even had the nerve to make a trio of super stops early in the half to deny the hosts even the faintest consolation.
This is a ruthless, focused, driven Germany.
They had the nerve to add a couple more too, as Schuerrle begged to be given a chance in the final. Now Klose has his record, the Chelsea man may well get his opportunity.
By the end, the Brazilians who hadn’t stormed off were applauding the Germans, greeting their touches with cries of ‘Ole’. They had, after all, witnessed one of the all-time great World Cup performances.
Oscar pulled one back late on, but the cheers were shrill and child-like, most fans silent or dismissive of his effort.
Maybe this is destined to be Lionel Messi’s World Cup – after all he is the best player in the world. Maybe the Dutch will finally break their hoodoo – after all, they do have the best coach.
But Die Mannschaft are football’s best team, and it would be foolhardy to bet against them.
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- Miroslav Klose
- Sami Khedira
- Thomas Mueller