Sometimes, huge thrashings paint an artificial picture of a team’s dominance – there might be a couple of fortunate goals, a few counter-attacks when the defeated side push forward late on, or a red card which significantly altered the balance of play.
On Tuesday night, here was nothing to mitigate this Brazilian capitulation no caveats, no excuses, no disclaimers.
Scorelines of 7-1 happen so infrequently in modern football that it’s difficult to find any comparisons, but if there was ever a “true” 7-1, this was it. This will become one of the most famous thrashings in the history of football, partly because of the unprecedented nature of the scoreline at such a stage of the World Cup, but also because the result entirely reflected the gulf in class between the sides.
Brazil were 5-0 down within half an hour, but their first warning came after just five minutes. The initial problem was in their left-back zone, where Marcelo abandoned the steady, reserved role he had previously played throughout this competition. Instead, he pushed forward to become a rampaging, attack-minded wing-back, with holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo, accustomed to dropping back into the defence, theoretically covering.
The plan failed immediately. Thomas Müller sprinted past Marcelo into oceans of space as Miroslav Klose received the ball with his back to goal, but Klose did not spot the run, and therefore didn’t play the pass. Muller screamed at him, furious he had been denied a golden opportunity in the opening stages of what seemed likely to be a tight, tense game. He should not have bothered – he had plenty more chances over the course of these staggering 90 minutes.
Brazil, and Marcelo in particular, did not learn their lesson. Five minutes later, Marcelo received a short backwards pass from Hulk deep inside the opposition half, and attempted a peculiar, stepover-cum-pass, which conceded possession unnecessarily. Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos broke down the right, and Marcelo raced back to tackle, conceding a corner (which resulted in Müller’s opener). The Brazil left-back raised his hands to his team-mates, apologising for his mistake. Twenty minutes later, Brazil were 5-0 down and he needed to apologise for so much more.
Everything came from his left-back zone. The second goal started with Müller and Philipp Lahm combining on Germany’s right flank, and ended with Müller drifting inside, outwitting Marcelo and teeing up Klose. The third arrived once Mesut Özil drifted across to join the party, with Lahm squaring for Kroos – the right-back would later do the same for the sixth goal, scored by substitute André Schürrle. In fairness, Marcelo lacked any kind of support from ahead, this Brazil side ludicrously broken with no defensive support from the attackers, but his individual display was extraordinarily poor, with David Luiz not too much better.
As impressive as Germany’s counter-attacking was the way they proactively and confidently nullified Brazil’s passing. Their high defensive line, in combination with Manuel Neuer’s aggressive sweeping, had been brilliantly effective but slightly risky in the narrow 2-1 extra-time victory over Algeria in the second round. But it was perfect for playing against Fred, a slow, sluggish striker who did not offer an out-ball. He simply offered nothing, Brazil were unable to relieve the pressure, and Germany kept on coming.
In turn, Germany’s midfield could push up and press Brazil: Kroos got tight to Fernandinho, Khedira shut down Luiz Gustavo. The fourth goal was a perfect example, with Kroos dispossessing Fernandinho, playing a one-two with Khedira, and converting into an empty net. Khedira hit the fifth, finding himself through on goal almost by accident, as Germany’s task had become so simple.
Brazil’s only attacking approach was David Luiz thumping huge diagonal balls, bypassing the midfield zone where his team-mates were being humiliated. Oscar did not know how to position himself, first trying to sneak in behind Bastian Schweinsteiger but later realising he was required in much deeper areas.
Before the game, this seemed a clash of styles. Brazil are an extremely physical, aggressive side who progressed from the quarter-final stage by cynically kicking Colombia’s talented No10 James Rodríguez out of the game. Germany, on the other hand, are technical, skilful, creative and patient. The tactical battle was surely about which side could put their stamp upon the contest.
But that dichotomy does not do justice to this German side. They are a hybrid: technically impressive but physically imposing too, and the combination of their neat counter-attacking and their exhausting pressing meant they completely overwhelmed the hosts. Germany were better technically, physically, tactically and, perhaps more than anything else, psychologically. Brazil cracked at an early stage, perhaps feeling the pressure and, increasingly, the embarrassment.
If one man summed up the German performance it was Kroos, the archetypal all-round midfielder. He’s a brilliantly inventive playmaker , capable of spreading neat passes out to the flanks and playing precise penetrative passes. But he is not a slight, slender 5ft 7in lightweight; he is a 6ft, incredibly powerful heavyweight. He was up for the battle, then showed off his skills.
“Kroos is a wonderful player,” said no less an authority than Johan Cruyff earlier this week. “He’s doing everything right: the pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.” That description sums up Germany’s performance, down to the “nearly”, only the late concession of Oscar’s goal prevented this from being absolutely, 100% perfect.