BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil—Most people are terrible singers, and yet football crowds are good at picking out a tune. Crowds are often flat on the high notes and tend to rush the tempo, but generally the combination of thousands of wrongs adds up to one big right.
The Brazilian national anthem last night was different. All around the Mineirão people stood and roared it so loud that their eyes bulged. The words resounded with startling clarity but much too loudly for any music to be heard.
Down on the field David Luiz and Júlio César were holding aloft the shirt of Neymar like a holy relic. The camera picked out a woman holding a placard that read, “Don’t worry—Neymar’s soul is here!” It was as though Neymar had died and was looking down at his former teammates from heaven, rather than watching them on television.
The collective emotional frenzy of the scene was awe-inspiring. For a moment every Brazilian, and many neutrals, succumbed to the same seductive illusion. What force could stand against the combined passion of these 11 Brazilian warriors, the soul of Neymar, the heart of Thiago Silva, and 200 million supporters?
On the field, the men in red and black stood and watched and let the noise wash over them. They too had lost an important teammate to injury, but it would never have occurred to them to create a cult of the fallen Marco Reus. They knew that most of the forces arrayed against them were imaginary. To the Germans, this was a simple matter of 11 against 11.
* * *
Germany’s first blow struck Brazil at their strongest point.
Neymar has been the corporate face of Brazil’s campaign but on the field David Luiz has been the true star, a rampaging, inspirational, all-action superhero. Luiz’s big hair makes him the most obvious player on the pitch, so that his feats of athleticism and bravery never go unnoticed.
He is such an easy player for spectators to pick out that although the penalty area was crowded, everybody could see that it was David Luiz who had arrived too late to stop Thomas Müller from volleying Germany into the lead off a corner in the 11th minute.
Having toppled Brazil’s totem, Germany unveiled their most frightening weapon: telepathy.
The second goal arrived on 23 minutes and the way Germany scored it told Brazil that the game was up.
Fernandinho is a midfield monster for Manchester City, a relentless destroyer who routinely dominates Premier League opponents with his power and tenacity. Twice Fernandinho tried to tackle Toni Kroos, only to bounce off the German midfielder like a bee off a windowpane. Kroos serenely played a gentle pass through the Brazilian line into the path of Müller, who was streaking in from the right. Brazil’s defense reacted to the run of Müller, but not to that of Miroslav Klose in the opposite direction. Müller’s lay-off to Klose wrong-footed the stumbling defenders, affording Klose enough time for not one, but two unopposed shots at the Brazilian goal. As the second shot rolled past the helpless Júlio César, Klose became the top scorer in World Cup history.
At 2–0 Brazil knew they were probably going to lose, but the really scary thing about that goal was the multidimensional coordination of Germany’s movement. The understanding between Kroos, Müller, and Klose had been as smooth and apparently effortless as though they were executing a pre-planned move on a set piece. How could Brazil compete with the sophistication of this team, who attacked from several directions at once, who somehow seemed to know what was going to happen a second and a half before Brazil did?
Brazil’s system was already beginning to short-circuit. Two minutes later, Philipp Lahm aimed a cross toward Müller, and the ball broke to Kroos, who smashed a glorious left-footer past César without breaking stride. The Bayern player celebrated quietly, looking almost embarrassed.
Germany’s next two goals proceeded with the inevitability of a checkmate foreseen several moves in advance. First Kroos pounced on Fernandinho and bulldozed him out of the way, played a one-two with Sami Khedira that smoothly outmaneuvered the wreckage of Brazil’s defense, and scored again.
In the next passage of play David Luiz threw himself forward with desperation, but Mats Hummels beat him to the ball. Hummels’ pass found Khedira, who coolly turned Dante before swapping passes with Mesut Özil and burying the fifth. Germany was like a 10-year-old playing PlayStation against his grandfather.
Barring the few thousand overjoyed Germans there was an atmosphere of stunned, disbelieving horror in that stadium that has possibly never before been experienced in sport. It was as though Germany had gathered 60,000 4-year-olds together and briskly announced that there is no such thing as Santa Claus.
There is no mercy rule in football but at that moment you dearly hoped that Germany would throttle back. The emotional deceleration was too brutal for the host country to handle. It was as though the seven years since Brazil won the right to host the World Cup had been an elaborate joke leading up to this six-minute punchline.
At half time the German players congratulated each other as though the match was already over, which, of course, it was.
* * *
By that point, everyone present already knew that they were watching the most incredible result in the history of the World Cup. How can you explain such a collapse?
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