Friday, 11 July 2014

WORLD CUP 2014: The Magnificent Seven

And we thought Spain’s 5-1 hammering by Holland was staggering. Read our musings on Germany’s incredible 7-1 victory over Brazil in the World Cup semi-finals

Belligerent Brazilian brutality was trumped by Grand German efficiency in a tub-thumping, eye-opening, record-breaking spectacle in Belo Horizonte. For both Germans and neutrals, it was a joy to watch, delightful advertisement for clinical, mouthwatering attacking team play. For Brazil, it transcended disaster. A record five World Cups will be scant consolation for the nation who hoped that this would be the year that they would finally win it on home soil.

There will be sympathy for the fans, but there ought to be little sympathy for a team who had illustrated as far back as their opening match that they frankly weren’t worthy of winning the World Cup. A team who had survived to this stage through a mixture of friendly refereeing decisions, dour, functional tactics, luck and the odd moment of individual brilliance, mostly from Neymar.

The lasting impression of Brazil 2014 was threatening to be left by these non-Brazilian Brazilans, for many the undeniable villains of the piece. And the price of kicking the elegant Colombians out of the tournament, surely hard to forgive in the eyes of many purists, was paid in the most emphatic fashion, with both captain and talisman unable to face Germany through suspension and injury respectively. One cannot even begin to comprehend just how much this enormous loss will impact a nation so thoroughly steeped in positive football culture.

David Luiz, whose commitment and classy free kick papered over many cracks against Colombia, was left utterly exposed without Thiago Silva alongside him. I also recently theorised that one man doesn’t make a team; one can amend that theory to “one man does make a team – but only if you allow him to.” That point of view turns a solitary playmaker or front runner into, as fellow football writer Jared Browne has put it, the team’s “own Limerick Junction”: everything has to go through him. And so it was with Neymar.

Germany have no such weakness. Firstly, their defence, for all its limitations, works for one another as a collective. The reversion of captain Philipp Lahm to his traditional full back role has made room for the presence of an old-fashioned No. 9 – Miroslav Klose.

Klose illustrated the value that a role seemingly deemed defunct in today’s game can still offer, his hunger, sharpness and persistence in breaking his own World Cup record passing through to the rest of the German team.

Stunned at going two goals down in a match for the first time since 1998, Brazil fell into a spell of shock and the previously blunt Sami Khedira briefly looked imperious.

It was a night for true match winners: Brazil had one, in Neymar, and he was pole-axed. Germany, on the other hand, had many: Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, the aforementioned Klose, Manuel Neuer and later Andre Schurrle, to name but a handful.

Their fight to keep a clean sheet even though it seemed irrelevant, their tug-of-war between maintaining a compact system and going for more goals, and their disappointment at conceding a goal in the end is symptomatic of the high standards they have set for themselves following two consecutive semi-final failures.

It’s third time lucky for the Germans, and deservedly so. There have been better German sides, man for man, over the years, but few more admirable in terms of youth, vitality, fluidity, unity, determination and incisiveness.These record breakers have registered the biggest World Cup semi-final knockout victory ever, beating the 6-1 wins of Argentina vs. USA and Uruguay vs. Yugoslavia respectively in 1930, and West Germany’s 6-1 win over Austria in 1954.

Were they to score three goals or more in the final and win it, they would become the highest-scoring winners of any World Cup, beating the current record of 19 held by Brazil’s immortal class of 1970. They are already on course to be the highest scoring team in the World Cup for the third tournament running, having scored 14 in 2006 and 16 in 2010.

That is something no team has previously achieved in the history of the World Cup finals.

And the lesson? It took a complete overhaul of a stagnant, restrictive results-driven system in the mid-noughties, which has revitalised German football and played a major part in changing the international game for the better.

Perhaps, on this evidence, Brazil need a similar overhaul.

(Originally published at Pulp Interest, July 9, 2014.)

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