BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- It was clear, long before kickoff, that Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal between host Brazil and Germany was so much more than a match between two soccer superpowers.
News helicopters hovered over the Brazil team hotel two hours before the game and provided live aerial coverage of the players – wearing “Forca Neymar” caps – boarding the bus while fireworks exploded across the city. The cameras then followed the police-escorted motorcade a mile and a half to the stadium while thousands of yellow-clad fans lined the hilly streets, jumping up and down and waving the ubiquitous Brazilian flag.
Nobody could have predicted, during that impromptu parade, that Brazilians would boo their team off the field several hours later and go into mourning after a stunning, embarrassing 7-1 dismantling by the Germans, who scored four goals in the span of six minutes. Shell-shocked Brazilian players and fans wept uncontrollably after the final whistle as the Germans enjoyed a muted celebration.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, calling it the “worst day of my life,” took responsibility, refusing to blame the absence of star striker Neymar or any surrounding distractions.
“The responsibility for this catastrophic result is mine,” he said. “I was in charge.”
“Let’s not try to find an excuse … Neymar, emotions. What happened is Germany imposed a fantastic rhythm and was able in two or three minutes to score the goals to impose the match. It’s got nothing to do with Neymar, or coming in linked together. Nothing to do. When we conceded the third, fourth and fifth goal, it is very difficult to turn things around against a team like Germany.”
A HISTORIC LOSS
It was the worst major loss for Brazil in nearly a century, since losing 6-0 to Uruguay in 1920, and only the second time the Brazilians conceded five goals in a World Cup match (they allowed five to Poland 1938). Brazil hadn’t lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975, and this one will sting for a long time.
The most painful Brazil defeat to date had been the 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, the last time Brazil was host. The devastating loss was nicknamed “Maracanazo,” and this year’s team was determined to avenge that loss, which was still discussed 64 years later.
Tuesday’s loss will surely replace “Maracanazo” as the saddest day in Brazilian sports history.
“If [I] were to think of life as [a] football player or coach or teacher, I think it was the worst day of my life,” Scolari said. “But life goes on. I am probably going to be remembered as the coach who lost 7-1, worst defeat for Brazil, but that was the risk in taking this position.”
What made the result even more stunning is that the mighty efficient Germans were not just playing 23 Brazilians. They were facing 200 million Brazilians, galvanized by the injury to national poster boy Neymar, who missed the game with a fractured vertebra.
A local newspaper featured a mask of Neymar on its cover, with cut-out eye holes. The caption: “Today, We Are All Neymar!”
It certainly looked that way. A sea of Neymar impostors poured into Estadio Mineirao, proudly wearing replicas of their hero’s yellow No. 10 jersey. Infant Neymars. Tall Neymars. Short Neymars. Female Neymars.
They brought along home-made posters, with sayings such as: “No Worries: Neymar’s Soul is Here.”
The real Neymar watched from home in Sao Paulo, and vowed through social media to attend Sunday’s final if Brazil made it.
Before Tuesday’s match, German coach Joachim Loew cautioned: “You shouldn’t believe the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva would be a disadvantage for Brazil. Other players will feel liberated. I am certain all of the others will be fighting for Neymar, fighting for the nation.
“Brazil will unleash all of its passion, all of its strong emotions and put them into the match. Any attack that will come close to our goal will be accompanied by the enormous potential of the Brazilian fans.”
The Brazilians certainly didn’t lack for passion, belting out the National Anthem with gusto as David Luiz and Julio Cesar held up a Neymar shirt.
But their play did not match their singing. The Germans got through Brazil’s defense with remarkable ease, accentuating the absence of suspended Brazilian captain Silva.
“We are very emotional after this win because we made it to the final and we faced off against the deep passion of the Brazilians,” Loew said. “We told our players before the game that if they were courageous, and aware of their strengths, they could win. But a result such as this was not to be expected.”
Thomas Mueller struck first in the 11th minute with a high volley, after he was inexplicably left unmarked on a Toni Kroos corner kick. It was Mueller’s fifth goal of this tournament and 10th counting the 2010 World Cup.
What followed was arguably the most shocking seven minutes in World Cup history, with waves of German attackers easily connecting passes through a vulnerable, disorganized Brazilian defense that looked like amateurs at times.
Thirty-six-year-old Miroslav Klose broke Brazil’s hearts and Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record with his 16th career Cup goal to make it 2-0 in the 23rd minute. One minute later, Kroos launched a rocket off a Mueller miss for the third goal. Before Brazil had a chance to regroup, Kroos scored again in the 26th minute. Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse for Brazil, Mesut Ozil fed the ball to Sami Khedira, who made it 5-0 in the 29th minute.
“Brazil was in great shock after those goals, they did not expect that,” Loew said of the first half. “They did not know what to do. Their defense was not organized. We realized they were cracking and took advantage.”
Andre Schurrle piled on the pain, scoring easily in the 69th and 79th minutes to make it 7-0. Brazil’s Oscar scored a goal for pride in the 90th minute.
Brazil defender Luiz, who filled in as captain for Silva, said: “We wanted to make the people happy ... unfortunately we couldn’t. We apologize to all Brazilians.”
A half hour after the match, when the stadium had cleared, several thousand jubilant German fans sang together in the end zone. Brazilians were on their way home, left to ponder the implausible defeat.
Germany will play the winner of Wednesday’s Argentina vs. Netherlands semifinal in the final Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil will try to find the energy and incentive to play in Saturday’s third-place game against the loser of the Argentina vs. Netherlands match.