The only major match of recent years that could compare in any fashion was the 2005 Champions League final, when Liverpool scored three goals in six minutes to recover from 3–0 down against Milan, then won the game on penalties.
The coach of Milan that night, Carlo Ancelotti, wrote in his autobiography that people often ask him what was going through his mind during those minutes.
“The answer is simple: nothing. Zero. My brain was a perfect vacuum, the vacuum of deep space.” It was only during extra time that “my brain began functioning again, and I managed to put together a complete and coherent thought: ‘This is starting to look bad.’ ”
After Tuesday’s match, a Brazilian journalist asked Brazil’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, why he had not made tactical changes during that crazy six-minute spell when Germany ran in four goals. Scolari cut him off mid-sentence.
“Let me explain something to you, then you can continue your question. When were the goals scored? 23, 24, 25, 26, 28 minutes? In such a space of time, nobody is going to change anything. It was one after the other. I think everyone blanked out. We were trying to talk to them, to get organized, to stop the goals going in, but it was a spell of pressure when everything worked out for Germany. There was nothing we could do to change it at that point.”
But there were things they could have done to change it. The most obvious solution would have been for one of their players to throw himself to the ground and feign injury for as long as it took for his teammates to get their breath back.
That even an idea this obvious did not occur to Brazil tells you that all their fuses were blown.
It’s tempting to link those blown fuses with the spike of emotional electricity with which Brazil had started the match. Outmatched by coolly masterful opponents, suddenly aware of the appalling abyss that separated the expectations of their people and their own ability to deliver, Brazil gave in to blind panic.
Later, the Germans confirmed that they had sensed the initial Brazilian frenzy masked deep underlying doubts.
“From minute one we had the impression something big was possible,” Kroos said. “We realized that the Brazilians were a bit upset, they were not so clear in their actions. We took advantage of the possibilities and scored one goal after another.”
“It was important to counter their passion and emotions with calmness, patience, and persistence, also with courage and belief in our own strength,” German manager Joachim Löw said. “You realized after the 2–0 that they were confused, that they never recovered their original organization. We were extremely cool and took our chances. We realized they were cracking up and took advantage of it.”
It was emotional judo. Germany reflected the energy of Brazil’s crowd back against their players. They took the lead, then watched the Brazilians melt down in the white heat of their own disgrace.
* * *
Afterward, Löw tried to empathize.
“I remember when we lost against Italy,” he said, referring to the 2006 World Cup semifinal, when host nation Germany went down to two late goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero. “A World Cup in your own country, everyone wants you to go to the final. In the 119th minute we lost the match. We know how Scolari feels, we know how the Brazilian team feels, and we know how the people in Brazil feel now.”
Do they really?
Consider Philipp Lahm’s description of that Italy defeat.
“There is nothing worse than having to remain on the field after losing such an important game,” Lahm wrote in his autobiography. “There is such sadness, such inner coldness, at the consciousness that you will very seldom get an opportunity like this in your life, and now you’ve messed it up. A few moments earlier you were part of a team, you were a piece in a bigger puzzle, but now you’re all alone, and all you want is to go into your shell, to get into the dressing room and stare at the floor until the pain subsides. ... In that dressing room, there was deathly silence.”
The Germans had to go to Stuttgart for a match none of them wanted to play, the third-place playoff against Portugal. When they landed at the airport it was pouring rain. The bus that picked them up got stuck in a traffic jam. The players were irritated. What’s the holdup?
The main train station is closed, the bus driver said.
“For fuck’s sake,” the players grumbled. “What’s going on?”
“There are 10,000 people at the train station. They’re waiting for you.”
The bus inched through the crowd like Moses through the Red Sea. Thousands of faces smiling, laughing, all because we have come here to Stuttgart to play a completely pointless third-place match, and suddenly I feel a shiver down my spine and I have goose pimples.
Madness. Ten thousand in the rain. Because they want to celebrate their team. Us.
In the bus, the temperature rises. Can this be true, what we’re seeing here?
“Madness,” said one.
“Madness,” said everybody.
As we get to the hotel and dump our bags in the lobby, we hear the “Deutschland, Deutschland” choir. When we sit down to dinner an hour later, I hear from outside such a roar, it’s like we’ve just equalized against the Italians. But it’s just Lukas Podolski, who has gone to stand before the big panoramic window of the dining hall to assure himself that not a single person had left the place.
“They’re still there!” said Poldi.
The crowd was screaming because they had seen Poldi.
Ten thousand people were still there. Ten thousand people standing in the pouring rain to thank us for playing an amazing World Cup, for giving them joy and hope. None of these 10,000 is thinking about the defeat against Italy. If we had beaten the Italians the mood could not have been the slightest bit more joyful, more euphoric, more friendly.
You wonder how the aftermath of what is already being called the Mineirazo—an echo of the Seleção’s 1950 disaster in the World Cup final against Uruguay—will play out in the Brazilian players’ cash-in autobiographies.
At 5–0 on the 30-minute mark, it briefly looked like we would soon be watching the first World Cup semifinal to be played in an almost empty stadium. Hundreds of Brazilian fans could be seen making their way up the corridors to the exits.
But the initial rush subsided. Most of the Brazil fans would remain until the end. They had a few things they wanted to get off their chests.
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