SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – The loss of suspended Brazilian captain Thiago Silva went almost unnoticed in the run up to Tuesday’s World semifinal against Germany, with the injury to Brazil’s talismanic forward Neymar saturating the pre-match discourse.
With this much-criticized Brazilian side so dependent on a defensive solidity, an unyielding base from which to counter at pace, the loss Silva, one of world football’s finest centre backs, was always going to prove vital against such a potent German side. And so it proved following Germany’s historic 7-1 win.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
This workaday Brazilian team capitulated against a ruthless, pitiless Germany team that finally—and spectacularly—clicked into the form and showed why it was one of the pre-tournament favourites. Despite the deficiencies of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil and the enviable depth of the German national team, nobody could have predicted the record-breaking pummeling that the Selecao took at the Mineirao.
With the Brazilian FA’s appeal against Silva’s suspension rejected, it was Bayern Munich’s Dante—the most decorated Brazilian at club level in recent seasons—who replaced the captain. He lined up against six of his Bayern teammates, seen as potentially an advantage by some but within 25 minutes of the first half the Hexacampeao dream was utterly obliterated by a superb Germany display.
Joachim Low’s men had seemed gettable in the run up to the competition—most notably in the friendly draw against Cameroon—and in earlier rounds, but the return of Philipp Lahm to his natural full back against France in the quarterfinals changed everything. The soft underbelly gone, balance restored, Germany began to fulfill its potential. Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos out-thought and outfought Brazil's midfield. The Germany we saw repeatedly torn open by Algeria in the Round of 16 was but a dim memory by the time Die Mannschaft dispatched the French with ease at the Maracana in the last eight. More than a hint of what was to come from the Germans.
The culmination of a decade of hard work has seen Germany make the World Cup final in remarkable fashion. Upon failing to get out of the group stage at Euro 2004, manager Rudi Voller was replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann. Supported by the German Football Association, Klinsmann and his assistant, Low, set Germany on a new course, instilling a new identity alongside a freshening of the academy system at club level. Everything was geared towards reestablishing the national team as a dominant force in world football. The semifinal mauling of Brazil has seen the realization of this renaissance Germany, but it will count for little should they fail to lift the trophy.
Some of the criticism leveled at Brazil during this tournament has been fair, but much has been directed at the most successful nation the game of football has ever seen from a false position—that Scolari and this team have somehow corrupted O Jogo Bonito, that they have betrayed their principles.
The idea of modern Brazil and beautiful football is a myth, and has been since an organized, robust and physically superior Italian team beat the much-vaunted Selecao in 1982.
Scolari has never been a proponent of attractive football. He is a pragmatist; a coach who knows that winning is the only important thing. The general feeling in Brazil was that the style, the spectacle, was largely irrelevant so long as Brazil lifted the World Cup for the sixth time at the Maracana. Alas, for Scolari and for the 200 million lamenting the hammering at the Mineirao, that dream is over.
Germany exploited Brazil’s weaknesses with a previously unseen callousness. When Scolari won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, his laterals—Roberto Carlos and Cafu—were key. Without Thiago Silva to organize the defence and with Luiz Gustavo having his worst game in canary yellow for some time, it was to prove Brazil’s undoing. Marcelo’s desire to provide width and impetus going forward was clinically exposed by Thomas Muller et al. The game plan from Low was only bettered by its cold execution from his team. Germany will take some stopping in the final on Sunday. On this display, that soul-searching from a decade ago appears to on the cusp of delivering exactly what it set out to—a World Cup victory.
What now for Brazil? Scolari asked a question of his own in the press conference after the match at the Mineirao; “Should we have to reinvent our team after one game? Half of this team will play at the World Cup in 2018.” Unfortunately for Felipao, he won’t be there to see it. Brazil has failed at home in 2014, but still boast a superb team, and produces some of the finest players on the planet. The most important thing for the Selecao going forward is how those players are used. Brazil could do a lot worse than looking at the methodology of the side that humbled them for inspiration.
Paul Sarahs is an English-based journalist who is covering the World Cup for Sportsnet in Brazil. Follow Paul on Twitter.