Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Day Twenty Seven: Müllered!

'This was a test of character for Brazil,' said the BBC commentator Steve Wilson about five minutes from the end of the first semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. 'And it was a one which they failed, miserably.' That wasn't hyperbole, incidentally, it was, if anything, a staggering understatement. Brazil's World Cup dreams ended shattered into fragments in rank, brutal humiliation as Germany inflicted their heaviest ever defeat in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday evening. A thunderous occasion which began with Brazil riding a tidal wave of emotion and national fervour was reduced to a complete and total post-apocalyptic nightmare as Germany were five-nil up inside twenty nine remarkable minutes in front of a disbelieving, tearful and, ultimately, rather angry Estadio Mineirao crowd. Brazil's players mourned the absence of the crippled Neymar before kick-off, but captain and defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva proved to be a far bigger loss in the ensuing fiasco. The result was Brazil's first competitive home defeat in thirty nine years and the end of their hopes of making it to the World Cup final at the Maracana on Sunday in emphatic fashion. Instead, Germany will meet either Argentina or Netherlands, who play on Wednesday in Sao Paulo. Thomas Müller gave the three-time winners an early lead before a period of utter chaos saw Miroslav Klose break the World Cup scoring record and then Toni Kroos add two more all in the space of one hundred and seventy nine seconds. The superb Sami Khedira added a fifth soon afterwards. Moscow Chelski FC striker André Schürrle, on as a second-half substitute, added two more after the break before Brazil's followers delivered what must be regarded as the defining insult to their own national team - cheering every German pass with an 'olé' and applauding their goals whilst roundly booing their own players; especially the hapless Fred. Many Brazil supporters, swamped with such anticipation as they gathered in their thousands around the ground hours before kick-off, were reduced to floods of bitter tears after less than thirty minutes and were reduced to such a state of shock that it was only at half-time they fully registered their first serious dissent. This calamity equalled Brazil's heaviest margin of defeat, a six-nil loss at the hands of Uruguay in the 1920 Copa America, but the impact of this reverse, not just on the world stage but in their homeland, will put this alongside the 1950 World Cup final defeat by the Uruguayans in Rio as, truly their darkest footballing day. Müller's early goal was a big enough setback in and of itself, but the manner in which Luiz Felipe Scolari's side then crumbled like a pile of damp cardboard in the space of just seven minutes is likely to be a matter of national debate - and national shame - in Brazil for years to come. This was Brazil's first defeat at home for twelve years. The loss for a country built on sporting pride - and at their own World Cup - will be bad enough to take. The scale of defeat, however, will take the inquests to whole a new level. The statistics stacked up like pieces of rubble around the feet of Big Phil and his players. This was the first time a team had scored seven in a World Cup semi-final and the biggest defeat in one of these games since the then West Germany beat Austria six-one in 1954. After the match the victorious coach, Joachim Löw, strutted around like he owned the gaff - and who, frankly, could blame him? - noting that 'scoring three in four minutes the hosts were in shock. We were extremely cool and realised they were cracking up, and we took advantage of that.' He wasn't wrong in the slightest. The five-time champions' team coach bears the phrase 'Brace Yourself - The Sixth Is Coming.' It did, indeed, arrive but only in the back of Julio Cesar's net. With all of David Luiz's defensive indiscipline offering rich pickings for Germany's speed and mobility, the game swiftly descended into a fiasco for Brazil. Luiz - to the ridicule of many in the game named earlier this week as FIFA's 'player of the tournament' - had the defensive frailties, which saw Moscow Chelski FC boss Jose Mourinho offload him to Paris St Germain tout sweet at the end of the recent season, cruelly exposed as he lost the ball in dangerous positions over and over again. The properly cowardly way in which he pulled out of a tackle with Khadira which, ultimately, led to the fifth German goal was the sort of thing one would criticise an eleven year old for doing in a school game and seemed to provide even more evidence that it wasn't just the Brazilian shirts which were yellow. Much has been made of the Brazil side's over-emotion during the national anthem - blubbing like big soft tarts and all that - and there was, in retrospect, an overblown public reaction to the absence of Neymar, injured in the quarter-final against Colombia, in the hour leading up to kick-off. Scolari led his players off the team coach wearing a white Forca Neymar baseball cap before captain Luiz and goalkeeper Cesar held up his number ten shirt during a stirring rendition of Brazil's national anthem. It was all downhill from there - and rapidly. From the moment Müller was the beneficiary of dreadful marking to steer in Kroos's corner after eleven minutes, Brazil simply fell apart and it was an invitation Germany were not going to refuse as Klose scored at the second attempt to set a new World Cup record of sixteen goals in twenty three games. What followed was one of the most remarkable passages of play in any World Cup game, let alone a semi-final, as Germany did not just look like scoring on every attack, for a while they actually did. Throughout this World Cup there has been a suspicion that a mediocre Brazil defence has been disguised and that, eventually, they were going to come up against a team as ruthlessly efficient as the Germans who would take advantage of this. With the shield of Silva - easily their best defender - removed, they were simply taken apart by Germany, wilting under pressure and abject in coping with their attacking variety. To put it brutally, their arse fell out and they, metaphorically, curled up into a little ball and whimpered for their mummy. Kroos side-footed home a finish which Cesar touched but could not save, then the midfielder quickly added another when set up by the unselfish Khedira who was probably the best player on the park. Khedira scored the fifth before half-time in an example of the complete disintegration of Brazil's organisation, discipline and basic defence. He took the ball from Luiz after the curly-haired defender decided that tackling wasn't for him and then strolled towards the penalty area untroubled before exchanging passes with Mesut Özil to score a deserved fifth. It was only then, perhaps as full recognition sunk in, that Brazil's supporters started to deliver a toxic reaction to their team, with striker Fred singled out for particularly vicious treatment. The subject of, again, much criticism outside of Brazil during the tournament but stubbornly stuck with by Scholari, Fred quickly became a symbol for his own supporters of everything that had gone wrong with Brazil. Early in the second half he found himself outside the German penalty area with the ball at his feet but his shot was 'tame and weak' according to Steve Wilson, a description which might have been used to describe his entirely tournament. The ball dribbled towards Manuel Neuer who simply had to kneel down to pick it up. A smattering of boos quickly turned into a crescendo. Soon it was happening every time Fred touched the ball and then, the ultimate humiliation, even after her was withdrawn and replaced by Willian in the sixty ninth minute, the abuse didn't end. Shortly before the final whistle, the stadium's cameras caught a picture of a dejected looking Fred sitting on the Brazilian bench looking for all the world like someone had just kicked him, hard, in the knackers. It was relayed onto the stadium's big screen. The outpouring a bile and anger from the Brazilian crowd to the hapless centre-forward at that moment when he wasn't even on the pitch almost made one feel sorry for the chap. Almost, but not quite. Despite a lively start to the second half which saw Neuer distinguish himself with a couple of superb saves to deny Ramirez (who replaces the lumbering, ineffectual Hulk at half-time), Bernard and Dante, normal service was resumed as Schürrle finished off a fine passing move before drilling a near-post finish past Cesar, who - like his team - should have done better. But didn't. It was at around this point that the home fans, collectively, began to throw their support behind Germany, cheering passing moves and even breaking into applause for Schürrle's second goal - a beauty rifled into the roof of the net from an acute angle. Oscar's late strike was nothing in the way of consolation to them and the crowd turned savagely on their players - many of whom left the pitch in tears - at the final whistle. Scolari described it as 'the worst day' of his life and said that he took full responsibility. 'I will be remembered as the coach to lose seven-one but I knew that risk when I took the job,' said Scolari after the game. 'The person who decided the line-up, the tactics, was me. It was my choice. My message for the Brazilian people is please excuse us for this performance.' Many in Brazil, in their heart of hearts knew that their World Cup dream might have to end without the win that they so wanted. But, no-one could possibly have suspected for a moment that it would end like this.

Steve Wilson might have had a moment of poetic brilliance towards the end of the match but, how disappointing it was to see him make such an elementary schoolboy-type error right at the start during the national anthems. For your information, Steve, the German national anthem is not called Deutschland über alles. It's never been called Deutschland über alles, not even when they used to sing the verse that includes the line 'Deutschland über alles' (which, incidentally, it has been illegal to sing in Germany since 1945). It doesn't actually, have a title - it's just The German National Anthem - although some people refer to it as Das Lied Der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans). Jeez, do some research for once, mate. Twenty seconds on Wikipedia would've told you all of that.

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