BY CRAIG CAMPBELL
Outside the Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte, the sound of sand bag heavy tears and wailing would feel more akin to the aftermath of a terrorist attack rather than a football match. Spiritually however, there had been a casualty of sorts. In 2014 and over the previous ninety minutes of a World Cup semi-final against Germany, a fairy tale had finally been sacrificed in the most brutal way possible.
In its aftermath a sense of shock pervaded. The score line itself was so outlandish that it seemed almost illogical. That it was 7-1 and had come against football behemoths Brazil only added to the surrealism. The great poetic artisans of world football had been manhandled into submission with an ease that no Brazil supporter had ever experienced before. 5-0 down by half time, the hashtag #prayforbrazil said it all. Internet scorn that was usually reserved for pasty-faced European minnows slayed at the business end, not the ball whisperers of Copacabana beach.Embed from Getty Images
Till then it had been a World Cup that had seemed brilliant early, but had really failed to catch fire. The holders Spain had imploded in their first group game to a 5-1 defeat and an incredible Robin van Persie goal. The surprise success of underdogs Costa Rica and the arrival of James Rodriguez had seemed to usher in a new wave of talent and progression; but by the knockout stages the default setting was fear of elimination rather than genuine bravery. The rest was the usual flotsam and jetsam. England had flattered to deceive before deflating like a sad, whistling inner tube in the night and the South American alchemists (which now included Chile and Uruguay) were a perplexing lot. A witches brew of sublime skill one minute followed by a wizards sleeve of mediocrity the next.
Whilst South American football wasn’t exactly in a malaise, it was certainly relying on past reputations. Going into the tournament there was the feeling that both Argentina and Brazil were so heavily reliant on Messi and Neymar respectively that it was impossible not to be caught out by the superpowers of Europe by the time they got to the real stuff. Brazil in particular were a difficult one to judge. Being the host nation meant they hadn’t had to qualify and their almost corporate friendly matches seemed to come and go like a touring variety act. Watching Brazil play around the world had often seemed like a football version of the Harlem Globetrotters. A back heel here, a swerving free kick here – but always with the onus on the individual and expressionism. The game simply wasn’t driven by that anymore. The system was the DNA of modern football. Anything else was potential suicide.
So it would prove in that savage semi, although there had been signs of what was to follow. There had been a heavy clue in fact to what German football could do to a high level opponent just twelve months earlier. In a champions league semi-final in 2013, Barcelona’s much feted ‘tiki-taka’ had been destroyed by Bayern Munich in a shock 7-0 aggregate defeat. There was the sense that German football was morphing into a new wave of brilliance – that the Bundesliga was the most fearsome gunslinger in town.Embed from Getty Images
Yet it wasn’t a peak German side that had navigated its way through the 2014 World Cup. Far from it. An early destruction of Portugal had promised much only for Joachim Low’s charges to stutter slightly through their group and the subsequent knock-out stages like they were missing something to get their teeth into. They would find it in the Mineirão though. A fiercely partisan crowd bayed for their blood under a sea of yellow. No other football side in recent history handled pressure better with their backs to the wall than the Germans. Once the edge on the pitch was evident they tended to find their strongest place.
For the opening ten minutes it would seem like your average, cagey semi-final but when a sublime German move and finish by Muller opened the scoring soon after, the wheels would come off the Brazilian bus in spectacular fashion. The whole world would then watch wide-eyed at the greatest complete breakdown of a football team at a major championships unfolded. It was the equivalent of watching a supermodel shit in her own shoe outside a Wetherspoon’s. Two and three nil quickly followed courtesy of Klose and a second by the predatory Muller. For any other team it would have inspired a siege mentality at the back or at the very least the ethos of damage limitation. Not Brazil however. A type of weird amnesia kicked in, as if they couldn’t quite believe what was happening to them in front of their own adoring crowd. Tactically they threw caution to the wind, an offensive madness which was practically useless against the German machine. They quickly got a cruel fourth and by the time the fifth goal went in you could actually hear the groans of anguish and see the yellow banners going limp against the evening sky like a metaphysical heavy weight was simultaneously pressing on them.Embed from Getty Images
By half time it was hard to remember a sporting stadium whose home support had been so overcome with grief. A sea of twisted and sorrowful faces like the quasi-religious figures that Caravaggio always had in the background of his paintings. It was like a king or president had been murdered which philosophically was precisely what had happened. If the famous Italian victory in 1982 over Brazil had been a battle wound that resonated for a few years publicly in the South American hinterlands, then this was the courtyard beheading.
Even in the German dressing room the sense of shock would have been palpable. There would even be rumours afterwards that Joachim Low and his coaching staff had warned his players to ease up slightly in the second half for fear of sending the entire stadium into meltdown. It certainly was a less rampaging German side that took the pitch in the second half. Even though they would score two more goals, they seemed to be anxious for the game to be over. The damage was already done anyway. They would say that it would take the Brazilian public fifty years to get over the defeat at Mineirão. In many ways the canarinha football philosophy had been brutally destroyed forever.
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