The horror unfolding on the Mineirao stadium mirrors on the face of a Brazilian supporter wearing contact lenses resembling the national flag on the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. (AP)
Brazil, the nation, did not deserve this: the people who had welcomed the World Cup with such warmth and generosity and with such winning smiles.
Any team can lose. The Wunderteam, Ferenc Puskas’s Hungary, various versions of England, Italy, Argentina and Spain. But somehow Brazil had never been constructed of such mortal stuff. Certainly Brazil could lose but not very often and then only as some sort of reassuring aberration for the rest of the world.
Now, in the wake of the Mineirao Massacre, football’s tectonic plates have shifted irrevocably.
Brazil’s defeat, as hosts, in 1950 had always been the nadir of their game. But at least then Brazil reached the final; at least then they lost only 2-1. To suffer, by 7-1, the worst defeat in their history (eclipsing 6-0 to Uruguay in 1920) was bad enough; but to do so in front of their own fans and “only” in the semi-final was beyond belief.
It was not that Brazil played badly. Apart from the opening 10 minutes they never played at all. Five goals in the next 19 minutes was the measure of the most catastrophic capitulation ever witnessed in the history of the World Cup. One Brazilian journalist even considered it the greatest sporting disaster since the original founding meeting of the Football Association back in 1863.
That Germany’s Miroslav Klose wiped Brazil’s own Ronaldo — who was watching from the commentary box — out of the record books, as he stabbed his overall 16th World Cup goal, rubbed salt into the wound. Yet no one watching live in the stadium in Belo Horizonte or on television around the world could harbour any doubt: had Germany not cruised through the second half, it would have been even worse.
This was only the second time Brazil and Germany had met in the World Cup. The previous meeting was the 2002 final when Brazil’s coach was Luiz Felipe Scolari. Here he was again. One was a night to remember; this a night he can never forget.
Brazil, powered by the intensity of the crowd and their national anthem “opera”, charged forward carelessly from the start. Germany needed a few minutes to conquer their nerves, then they set about conquering Brazil: Bastian Schweinsteiger clipped a right-wing corner towards the far post and Thomas Muller stepped away from the unthinking David Luiz to tuck the ball past keeper Julio Cesar.
Scolari had said before the game that Brazil were “two steps from heaven”. Now, by dramatic contrast, they collapsed into the depths of footballing hell as Germany struck four more times in the next 20 minutes. German coach Joachim Low described Brazil as “shell-shocked”. Scolari defined it as the “worst day” of his football life.
Klose scored to break Ronaldo’s record, Toni Kroos thundered home from the edge of the penalty box, then struck close range after some casual inter-passing with Sami Khedira who scored himself, subsequently, with equal simplicity.
Three of the goals had gone in within 180 seconds. Half an hour was on the clock and Brazil were already dead and long gone. They were booed off at the end of the first half and booed back on at the start of the second. Responsibility lay not only with Brazil’s shortcomings but in a positive, confident and deft German performance. But the tale of the game now was merely how bad it might become for the hosts.
Scolari told his team at half-time to play for national pride so Paulinho and Ramires replaced hopeless Hulk and feeble Fernandinho to instil some discipline and order. Initially they did and Brazil might have scored several times in the opening exchanges.
Germany keeper Manuel Neuer was at his best to cut out a dangerous cross from Ramires, block a close-range shot from Oscar, then make a defiant double save from Paulinho. But substitute Andre Schurrle struck twice more on the break for the new masters and Oscar’s riposte in the last minute could not be considered even a “consolation”.
Scolari, in his post-mortem, mixed apology and an acceptance of personal responsibility with a defiant insistence that “Germany played their best match in this World Cup and we played our worst.”
Inevitably, after any major defeat, comes the issue of the manager’s share of the blame. Scolari, manager when Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, was reappointed in November 2012 to rebuild a young squad after the failure at the London 2012 Olympics.
Now he had to confront an even more disastrous failure.
Scolari said: “Who is responsible when the team play? Who is invited as the coach? Who is responsible for picking the team? I am. It’s me. So this catastrophic result can be shared with the whole group but the choice of tactical line-up and the way to play, I made.
“So the person responsible is me.... This is a catastrophic, terrible loss, the worst loss by any Brazilian team but we have to learn how to deal with that.”
Initially, painfully, Brazil fly to Brasilia on Saturday for the third place play-off, the so-called “losers’ final”. Germany, magisterially, go on to the Maracana and the real thing, the size of their achievement overshadowed by the size of Brazil’s humiliation.
Apportioning blame goes far beyond Scolari. Allowing for a handful of options he picked probably the best team he could. Injured Neymar’s absence was irrelevant; he would have been just another spectator, abandoned in attack. More important on the night was the absence of Thiago Silva from the centre of defence. He had only himself to blame for a silly, unnecessary tournament second card in the quarter-final against Colombia.
But Brazil’s football has long been dislocated. The governing CBF is popularly considered a byword for corruption and incompetence, its failing in management, development, coaching and organisation masked by the five stars signifying a record five World Cup triumphs over the badge on the yellow shirt.
No more. The world — and the World Cup — has seen the truth.
7 deadly sins
1. Bar brawlers who live to tell the tale say: “If the other guy is bigger than you, hit ’em hard and hit ’em with everything you got.” The Germans, who perfected the blitzkrieg in World War II that Brazil initially missed, did so. Oversized ego flattened after the first two goals, Brazil never recovered
2. Neymar was the elephant on the ground that did not dance. “Forca Neymar” baseball cap for Scolari, tribute with No. 10 shirt when the anthem was played…. You don’t go to battle wailing “if only we had our best warrior…”
3. Teams with less “talent” had multiple plans for each match. Brazil seemed to have had nothing to fall back on. So no substitution was made in the first half even after the team conceded five goals within 29 minutes
4. Brazil no longer seeks to beat opponents on flow; they now look to win on moments. But who is going to provide those moments? With the exception of Bernard, they failed time and again to dribble past German players or snatch balls in one-on-one situations. Emotion can help but cannot be a substitute for skill
5. Every man in canary yellow seemed eager to score but the team lacked the discipline to be a potent strike force. It was just as well that Germany overtook Brazil during the match to become the highest goal-scoring team in World Cup history
6. In 2002, Scolari could select Ronaldo, Rivaldo and the young Ronaldinho. But who did he have this time? Fred featured in all the matches though he failed to get going in any. Maicon, preferred to Dani Alves, kept charging forward and got caught out on the way back. Dante would not go for a tackle even when a player would go past him. Fernandinho kept losing the ball but retained his place until the second half
7. As if there wasn’t enough pressure, economic, geopolitical and cultural meanings were added to the Cup conquest. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s repeated predictions of “the World Cup of all World Cups” ran into “Disgrace-of-Disgraces” headlines on Friday morning. “The defeat calls into question our culture of improvisation,” one columnist wrote. Another said: “Let’s start believing less in magic and more in hard work.” Last word to Rousseff, who tweeted: “I am immensely sorry for all of us.”