“Did that just happen?” “How did that happen?” “Why did that happen?” Those were the questions I kept hearing during, after and also way after Brazil’s brain-spinning 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup they are hosting. At the time, I had no answer, because when my brain spins I find it hard to talk. Also, every time I started a sentence, Germany scored again, and then the spinning started again. No wonder all those children kept crying.
A few hours later, I’ve had time to watch and think and maybe take a stab at answering those questions. So here are seven possible reasons that at least partially explain a result that we’ll all be telling our grandchildren about. Unless our name is Fred.
1. Germany’s set pieces
Germany only scored one goal from a set piece. But it was the first goal, so it’s important. And I’m here to make the case that Germany has the best set piece routines at this World Cup. Some are so good, you need to watch the slo-mo replay to see what’s going on. Exhibit A is Thomas Mueller’s 10th minute goal, which he volleyed past Julio Cesar directly from a corner kick. While it appears that Brazil defender David Luiz fails to concentrate and stay with Mueller’s run, Luiz is actually the victim of a viciously efficient basketball-style pick play, with big Miroslav Klose stepping into Luiz’ path as Mueller darts away, ensuring Germany’s #13 has all the time and space he could ever need.
2. Big Phil got it wrong
Brazil’s coach Felipe Scolari had a choice: In Neymar’s absence, do I go Neymar-lite, or do I double down on defensive midfielders to try and combat Germany’s magnificent midfield trio of Sami Khedra, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos? In selecting Bernard, he went Neymar-lite, and left his two defensive midfielders to be over-run, run over and eventually run out of town by the relentless German midfield.
3. Pragmatism > passion
By contrast, Germany’s Jogi Löw got it very very right. With Brazil fired up and determined to attack in Neymar’s absence, there were all kinds of openings for Germany to exploit. Löw set his team to maximum wrecksploitation by high-pressing Brazil’s midfield to prevent any attempt at establishing a passing rhythm and by going after the rain forest-size hole that left-back Marcelo left behind him every time he gallivanted forward.
4. There is no substitute for Thiago Silva
Brazil’s captain is not only the best central defender in the world in terms of anticipating danger and closing it down, he’s also an inspirational organizer who will literally put his foot on the ball, take a deep breath, and spread calming vibes in every direction. David Luiz, on the other hand, likes to dribble up-field, while Silva’s replacement, Dante, making his World Cup debut, loves to ping long balls up-field for Fred not to win. This lack of composure is why, when Brazil’s house was on fire mid-way through the first half, Luiz and Dante were trying to douse the flames with the gasoline of long balls (which Germany were happy to collect and return with interest) and panic. Speaking of which …
5. Seven minutes of pressure, seven minutes of panic
Twenty-one minutes in, this game was 1-0 to Germany. Not the end of the world for Brazil fans. Twenty-nine minutes in, it was 5-0 Germany and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were doing donuts in the parking lot of Estadio Mineirão. Those four goals in seven minutes happened because, where a normal team would have been high-fiving each other after going 2-0 in the 22nd minute, Germany redoubled their high-pressing game and forced Brazil back, back, back. This was never clearer than on the fourth goal, in which almost straight from kick off (after Brazil had conceded the third), Toni Kroos charged down and straight up robbed Fernandinho of the ball, played a one-two, and scored again.
6. Retreat is not an option (or at least not a smart one)
Watch Brazil’s defenders on every goal in that seven minute spell, and you’ll see them running backwards whenever Germany attack instead of stepping forward to intercept, tackle or generally make it difficult for Germany to advance. It’s clear panic mode, in which you do what feels safest in the moment, even though what you’re doing is massively counter-productive and just inviting the thing you’re scared of to keep coming at you. This is the reason you’re not supposed to run away from grizzly bears.
7. Julio Cesar is no Keylor Navas
I’m not blaming Brazil’s goalkeeper for any of Germany’s goals. But he also didn’t make any saves either. A great keeper would do what Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas did, what Mexico’s Memo Ochoa did, even what Germany’s Manuel Neuer has done, and pull out at least one impossible save to repel the opposition and make his teammates believe. Julio Cesar is not that guy.