Shocks and surprises

Colombia's James Rodriguez (left) was a revelation and won the `Golden Boot' as the top scorer in the World Cup.-AP Colombia's James Rodriguez (left) was a revelation and won the `Golden Boot' as the top scorer in the World Cup.

Losing by even two or three goals would have been a blow to the host Brazil, also a five-time champion. But 7-1 (loss to Germany in the semifinals) was a rout and sensation. Here’s an analysis of the 2014 World Cup by Brian Glanville.

How extraordinary that the most sensational shock of the 2014 World Cup should take place in Belo Horizonte, though not at the same stadium. In 1950 England were beaten 1-0 and humiliated by a USA team composed of largely obscure part-timers, from a country where soccer was still a disregarded minor sport. Fast forward 64 years and here is Brazil, the hosts, five times winners of the World Cup and arguably among the challengers, thrashed 7-1 by a German team which simply tore their limp defence apart. A Brazil team managed by Big Phil Scolari, whose team had actually won the World Cup beating Germany themselves in the Final in 2002.

For the Brazilians, the darkest day in their World Cup, indeed whole football history, had been the decisive game (there was no Final as such) in Rio in 1950, when, hot favourites to beat Uruguay, they were instead defeated 2-1 by a couple of inspired breakaway goals. But between 2-1 and 7-1, the five goal difference is immense. How could it come about? How good were Germany, how bad Brazil?

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s long serving manager, remarked after the fiasco, “The whole idea of Brazilian football was killed tonight. It died.” Harsh words, but it was evident that after Germany’s initial rush of goals, what died was the morale of the Brazilian team: it plainly gave up the ghost. To what extent was Scolari, who departed at the end of the tournament, responsible? How could he have persisted with David Luiz as a centre-back? A footballer brimming with talent, fast, incisive, a ball player menacing with foot and head but utterly undisciplined? Forever running out of position in pursuit of glories in attack. That he could and did score from a ferocious free kick hardly compensated for his reckless forays out of position.

Nor were the Brazilians helped by the suspension of Thiago Silva, the lynchpin of a defence which collapsed without him. Dante, his replacement was all at sea. No Neymar, the refulgent star of the Brazilian attack — who could have been sent off for a flailing arm in their very first game — was ruled out by a brutal foul in the match against Colombia, whose James Rodriguez was a revelation. But none of this extenuates the sheer margin and ignominy of the defeat. Losing by even two or three goals would have been a blow to Brazil, and something of a surprise. But 7-1 was a rout and sensation.

Let us look at how the game went. Germany went ahead after only 11 minutes, playing the 4-2-3-1 formation which was also deployed by Brazil but with what a difference. Toni Kroos, who would score twice in one devastating minute, was able to operate just as refulgently in deep midfield “in the hole” behind the striker or on the flanks, took the crucial corner — one which emphasised the feebleness of the Brazilian defence. With both Brazilian centre-backs out of position, the exuberant Muller volleyed home.

But it was in the period between the 23rd and 25th minute that the heart was plainly taken out of the Brazilians. First, an inspired Kroos dashed through the middle, finding Muller who in turn passed to the 36-year-old veteran striker, Miroslav Klose; a revelation and a daring gamble by the team manager, Loew. Klose’s first shot was blocked by Cesar in goal but he followed up to score for a new World Cup record of 16 goals. Next followed Kroos’ own two quick goals. The first a left-footed shot after overlapping right-back and captain Philipp Lahm’s cross had eluded Muller. The second, a right-footer after he had won the ball from a dilatory Fernandinho, serving Khedira, exploiting the return pass.

Oddly enough perhaps the only Brazilian player to achieve some kind of adequacy was Fred, much maligned by the crowds, a pedestrian figure who, however, forced saves from Germany’s dominant and adventurous keeper Manuel Neuer, once in the first-half, twice in the second, while the so-called stars wilted around him.

The Germans took their foot off the gas for a while and not until the 69th minute did they bother to score again. A shamefully unmarked substitute, Schurrle, converted Lahm’s pass. Ever prolific, he scored again 10 minutes later from a narrow angle with a fierce shot into the roof of the net. Oscar’s late goal for Brazil could scarcely be called a consolation. His team had long surrendered.

The refulgence of their 7-1 victory could hardly be denied but let us get it into proportion. Having thrashed a 10-man Portugal 4-0 in their opening Group game, they were seriously extended by unfancied Algeria in the second round. A football nation which had bitter memories of the “Anschluss” agreement between the Germans and the Austrians in the World Cup of 1982 in Spain, when a cynical collaborative draw put Algeria out of the tournament.

But what of Germany’s second Group game in which Ghana gave them a real fright? Having gone ahead through Mario Gotze, Germany conceded Ghanaian goals by Andre Ayew, a header, and Asamoah Gyan gave Ghana the lead. Only for Loew to gamble on deploying veteran Klose as a late sub: with Klose equalising.

Germany then would only scrape through 1-0 against a combative USA team. In the second round match with Algeria they needed extra time for a somewhat fortuitous 2-1 win. That impressive substitute Schurrle scored with his heel, then brought about the second for Ozil. Djabou’s goal near the end of extra time was less than the Algerians deserved.

Fast forward to the Final. Here the Germans made very hard work of beating an Argentina team which had huffed and puffed its way to the Final, saved and redeemed by the glorious solo goals of Lionel Messi. But by the Final he was obviously and explicably tired while Angel Di Maria, who a few months later, would play havoc with the German defence on their own soil, was injured and out. Moreover, Higuain the Argentina striker should have scored in the first-half and in the second was recklessly assailed in mid air by Germany’s keeper Neuer who should have been sent off by a complaisant referee. Germany’s extra-time winner by Gotze on 113 minutes was superb but Argentina were no push over like Brazil.

The tournament brought an immediate shock in Holland’s 5-1 demolition of Spain, who’d beaten them in the 2010 Final. Arjen Robben, left-footed on the right, having missed two real chances in the 2010 Final, was irresistible with two goals in Salvador: Robin van Persie, equally deadly, scored a couple more, one a remarkable looping header. The end of Spain’s ticky-tacky you might say. Yet, Holland’s coach Louis van Gaal had expected little of his team.

Finally, horrific was the bite inflicted by Uruguay’s star Luis Suarez on Italy’s Chiellini; at least the third time he’d bitten!