Germany struck first. Then they struck second. Then they struck third, fourth and fifth before their much-anticipated World Cup semifinal match against host Brazil was half an hour old.
By halftime, many Brazil fans were sobbing. Some were doing the unthinkable by leaving Belo Horizonte’s Estádio Mineirão early. It was a World Cup bloodbath of historic proportions, leaving players, fans and spectators alike in utter shock. It was 5-0 at halftime, rendering the final score of 7-1 all but irrelevant.
How did this happen?
Brazil looked tight from the start, faces drawn as they took the field. They came out aggressive, though — which was commendable without star striker Neymar, but left them open to counterattacks on defense. Germany’s first goal, from Thomas Muller, came off a set-piece, however; perhaps suspended star defender Thiago Silva wouldn’t have made a difference there. But the play did underscore his absence.
Here’s Muller’s 11th-minute goal. 1-0, Germany.
Then Miroslav Kose scored in the 23rd minute to become the World Cup’s career-leading scorer with 16 total goals. 2-0, Germany.
Then Tony Kroos scored in the 24th minute. 3-0, Germany. Then Kroos scored again in the 26th minute. 4-0, Germany.
Then Sami Khedira scored in 29th minute. 5-0, Germany. Talk about brutal. Cameras found this crying child in the stands at 4-0 — a most appropriate image indeed.
The second half at first looked a little more even — if you didn’t know the score. But that didn’t last. By the closing minutes, ESPN’s announcers were incredulously remarking on how Brazil had “thrown in the towel.” But again, it begged a question: How did this happen?
Pundits will dissect and dissect again the ins and outs of this game — but it comes down to one thing, really. You can talk about pressure, and it likely would have been a different match with Silva and — especially — with Neymar. But Brazil was simply outclassed on Tuesday, running into a German buzz-saw that couldn’t be stopped.
We heard it over and over, before and during this World Cup: Brazil’s 2014 squad is not a classic Seleção, not an all-time Brazilian squad by any stretch. A bunch of decent players surrounding one great one. Without that great one, Neymar on the pitch, the truth was laid more bare than ever. Brazil dodged bullets against Croatia, Mexico and Chile in the knockout and group stages. But this time they faced a Howitzer and there was no dodging.
André Schürrle’s second-half goal to make it 6-0 added only more insult to injury.
Then Schürrle scored another in the 79th minute to make it 7-0 — the most goals ever scored by one team in a World Cup semifinal. Brazilian players had by that point largely given up — more shameful by far than the lopsided score or dominating way it was reached. Oscar scored for Brazil in the 91st minute to produce the final line, but the goal seconds before the final whistle almost felt ironic.
The question for Brazil becomes not what just happened but what happens next, after the team’s first home loss in a competitive match since 1975.
Players and coaches alike said anything less than a championship would be an utter failure this summer, and now that utter failure has been realized in humiliating fashion.
For a nation that still dwells on the tragedy of losing the 1950 World Cup final at home, will the players on this team become pariahs for life? Will they ever overcome the tragedy as it lives on in their own minds? Will Brazilians’ collective reaction be one more of sadness or rage?
But most of all one feels awful for the players involved, of whom so much was demanded and only disappointment — fairly or not — was delivered.
It makes the USA teams’ 1-0 look almost super human now.