If Pele’s countrymen still are smarting from that loss to Uruguay in Rio 64 years ago, how long will they mourn this one? Germany 7, Brazil 1 in a World Cup soccer semifinal? In Belo Horizonte? It was the most astounding result in the annals of a tournament that goes back to 1930 and a sporting shocker for the ages. Four goals in six minutes during the first half-hour? “Torgasmus!” proclaimed the headline in the daily newspaper Bild. Tor is the German word for goal. No need to translate the rest.
Nobody saw this coming. A German victory, quite possibly. But the Brazilians had never, ever, taken a beating like this with the entire planet watching. The 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 final was as bad as it ever got for the Selecao and that was in Paris, when Les Bleus were playing for eternity. This was far, far worse. “We ask for forgiveness,” said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after what he declared was “the worst day of my professional life.”
The pressure on the Selecao, which hadn’t lost a tournament match on home soil since 1975 (also in Belo Horizonte, to Peru), was unimaginable. The country had spent $12 billion that it didn’t have to stage the event and a sixth Cup would have made it worthwhile. “We know we cannot fail,” designated captain David Luiz acknowledged on the eve of the match, observing that “this is the game of our lives.”
Yet from the opener against Croatia, when Marcelo knocked the ball into his own net after 11 minutes, the Brazilians were out of step. They were held to a scoreless draw by Mexico. They beat a Cameroon team that already had been eliminated. And after giving up the lead to Chile in their second-round meeting, the Selecao needed two saves by Julio Cesar and one by the goalpost to survive a shootout.
Even if Brazil’s two key men had been in uniform, the hosts would have had their hands full with the Germans, who’ve been in lockdown mode ever since they salvaged a draw with Ghana in group play. But with superstar Neymar injured and captain Thiago Silva suspended, the Selecao couldn’t create at one end and couldn’t cohere at the other.
Once the Mannschaft steamroller was up and running, their yellow-shirted rivals scattered like a flock of spooked canaries. “We got disorganized and panicked after the first goal,” said Scolari, “and then it all went wrong for us.”
What was nearly as jaw-dropping as the seven goals was how easily the Germans scored them, dashing through the midfield and into space, three, four, five of them at a time to play pinball in the box. The Brazilian defenders were not so much besieged as bewildered. “What the heck is happening here?” their expressions said.
This was essentially the same group that tap-danced its way through the Confederations Cup, last summer’s dress rehearsal, throttling Spain, 3-0, in the final. On Tuesday, they looked like a bunch of guys playing a Sunday pickup match at Ipanema Beach. Once the “goleada” began, the Brazilians never could reshape themselves.
“It’s not normal to concede four goals in six minutes, but it can happen,” acknowledged Scolari, who was a hero when he directed the 2002 squad to the championship over Germany but who’ll be the mustachioed fall guy this time. “Even Germany couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Yet even if the Selecao had reached the final, a sixth title was no guarantee. Argentina and the Netherlands, who’ll meet Wednesday afternoon in Sao Paulo, each has ended Brazil’s Cup dreams in the past and possess both the attacking qualities and defensive rigor to have done it again.
Pele, who played for three champions during his country’s golden era, was worried about this team before the tournament began. There were problems in the attack, he said, and too much reliance on Neymar, who was a Cup rookie. Pele had a superb supporting cast. When Neymar had his back buckled by a Colombian knee, nobody stepped up in his place. Fred, who was the ace of the Confederations Cup, was the invisible man this time.
This Selecao simply wasn’t special enough to ascend what Scolari called the “seven steps to heaven” and it played the worst possible opponent on its worst day in history. The Germans didn’t need seven goals. Two — Thomas Mueller’s unmarked volley off a corner in the 11th minute and Miroslav Klose’s gimme rebound of his own shot in the 23d — were enough. But they’ll keep scoring if you don’t stop them and they did.
If the Germans are smart, and nobody would doubt that they are, they mark this one down in the book and they start thinking about Sunday. Because if they lose the final, it would be as if the Boys of Winter had dropped the gold-medal game to the Finns after beating the Big Red Machine in Lake Placid. “Now we have to pull it off one more time and lift the thing,” Mueller said. “We should keep our feet on the ground.”
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.