It’s hard to put into words but I’ll try. They could be, and were, described as ‘clinical’, ‘efficient’, ‘methodical’ but those adjectives somehow don’t sit well alongside the manner and magnitude of Germany’s annihilation of Brazil. Outmoded phraseology that lazily takes refuge in the defining of a nation through the scars of conflict is best left to the fingertips of the tabloid hack or the mouth of Alan Shearer. This was so much more.
Seven goals. Against the five-time winners. In a World Cup semi final. In their own backyard. It is a result that lives outside the boundaries of credulity; something that is anomalous with the certainties of the football universe. A freak. An aberration. A nightmare/dream that will surely end at any moment. The truth is that it did happen and it was spellbinding. Brazil did wake up eventually and it realised that reality is probably even more painful than our darkest imaginings. Is this veering into the realms of hyperbole? Perhaps. But where else do you go after witnessing that?
Where else could Argentina and Holland go the next day? We were expecting an encore of expressive exuberance to follow the previous night’s spectacle. Instead, we endured attritional football at its most meagre. We should have known better. Football rarely soars to such dizzying altitudes but Germany’s unwavering discipline and exacting execution constructed (and I use this word specifically) a vision of football at the highest level that is played beyond the asphyxiation of pressure and the fear of defeat.
Much of the debris of analysis following the The Mineiraço (as we are now obliged to call it) has focused on Brazil’s frailties as a team and the long-term repercussions of the humiliation. Will these players ever recover? Will this match now forever cast a Teutonic shadow whenever the tournament is recalled by Brazilians? Does this signal the potential resurgence of mass protest against the World Cup’s cost; something the authorities (aided by the quality of football) have so far successfully muted? What about Neymar? With all the mawkish, veering on the embarrassing, hashtagging and shirt-worshipping over his injured frame, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that he had been relieved of his mortal coil by those dastardly Colombians. The next Nike ad will feature him rising Lazarus-like from the viscera left on the Belo Horizonte pitch as the crying masses line up to run their hands through that beautifully coiffed hair. You’ve been warned.
Brazil would be best advised during the inevitable period of introspection that will descend over the coming days, months and years to look to their tormentors for a path towards long overdue redemption. We cannot be surprised by Germany’s ascendancy. It has been a process that has its roots in the failure of Euro 2000 and the embarrassment of seeing Emile Heskey netting against you during an English drubbing. There was a widespread acknowledgment that German football needed to transform itself from the functional, grinding mechanism it once was. Times had changed. Football had moved on. With every passing tournament since this epiphany they have come closer and closer to making the wild visions of Jürgen Klinsmann, and latterly Joachim Loew, a reality. There is consistency at every level. It is German clubs who are now held up as signifiers of success and structure and there is an in-built awareness that all this is done with the national team at the forefront.
It is testament to the character of the German nation that it is able to refine and adapt accordingly to changing times and situations. And while I will continue to advocate that football should be played from the heart via the balls, Germany have surpassed such romantic notions. Theirs is a football of the heart, the head, the body as a complete and functioning unit. It is football that moves forwards through movement. It has come about through self-awareness and self-criticism. The prize that awaits them would be the apt culmination of such a brave philosophy.
Football however, has little regard for perfectly wrapped denouements. The dreamer would have yearned for the final act of this World Cup to be a summit between South America’s twin colossi. Instead Germany will face Argentina and with that inflict upon Brazilians a concluding postscript of agony. Is the scenario of seeing your most detested of enemies from the south holding the trophy aloft in the Maracana less excruciating than seeing the perpetrators of your nation’s darkest sporting moment emphatically shatter the mystique of your footballing superiority once and for all?
Whilst these World Cup Dispatches have spent many words examining the commonality that exists amongst all lovers of football and as a consequence of this celebrating the innate humanity of this tournament, it may well be fitting that Brazil’s Hobson’s choice points towards the pain and anguish of football when so much of my writing has focused on its inspirational beauty. Football, like life, demands that you pick a side. Even in the most meaningless of fixtures that don’t involve your club, you find yourself veering towards one of the participants. I have a universal distrust of neutrality. It smacks of the cowardly, the disinterested, the opportunist. It smells of Switzerland, nefarious bank accounts and cuckoo clocks.
If Brazilians really do love football (which they do), they will pick a side. And as they watch from the sidelines, the first shoots of regeneration as a footballing nation will hopefully break through the arid landscape. To have been exposed so cruelly at its own showcase will hopefully shake the nation out of its hubristic coma. Despite the two World Cup wins, Brazil have slowly degenerated into a joyless carnival act over the last twenty years. They have allowed themselves to become ensnared by the hollowness of the sports manufacturer’s riches and assented to being carted around the world to play irrelevant friendlies in order to sate the appetites of expanding markets. The myth was bought into with such vivacity that the lessons of 1950 have not been heeded in 2014. Prior to the final match with Uruguay, Brazil had been declared World Champions by the press. Uruguay won. Prior to this year’s semi-final, the team coach arrived at the Mineirao with the slogan “Brace yourselves: the sixth is coming” blazoned across it. You know the rest.
Therein lies the poetry. There is something ethereally exquisite about the symmetry of both traumas and it somehow resonates deeper than any Brazil victory would have done. A sixth win would have masked the problems inherent within Brazilian football and the country at large. The (manner of the) defeat will hopefully force many to wake up and address situations that have been ignored and neglected for far too long.
Nobody has a divine right to anything. You make your own luck. Brazil made the mistake of thinking that all they had to do was allow public fervour and bulging veins and god-pointing to carry them towards immortality. It is failure and trauma’s paradoxical gifts that allow us all to achieve any kind of success or well-being. That, and a good deal of rational thought. Germany understood that years ago and have prospered magnificently. It’s not a case of “just doing it” anymore. It’s about Doing It Better. That’s German football’s lesson to Brazil and to football as a whole. It’s a lesson for us all.
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