The Men Who Weren’t There: Brazil v Germany
Germany may have won 7-1, but there is little for them to take away from this match. Is Germany really really good? Absolutely. But let’s not pretend this game means too much for them moving forward, certainly not for the final. Sure, Germany looked clinical in their attack, but that’s relatively easy to do when your counters begin in the opposing third, you’re attacking with numbers, and no one is marked. One could argue they finally settled their lineup in returning Lahm to right back, but that’s relatively small beans. They did, crucially, manage to make it through to the final with their full roster intact.
No, this game was about Brazil, and how they capitulated under the weight of a nation. Maybe if Brazil had managed to put in an early goal the story – and game – would’ve gone differently. Maybe they would’ve found belief. But once Klose followed Muller’s 11th minute goal with one of his own in the 23rd minute, the story was written.
The Brazilians played this entire tournament on a fragile emotional precipice. They would weep during their anthem prior to games, and they would follow those games with emotional outbursts. Both the players and fans believed not only that they would win, but that they were supposed to win. They were a team of destiny, tied to the heart of their nation. It was a notion that would’ve felt half-baked for the better part of this tournament, if not for the ascendant Neymar and rock solid Thiago Silva.
I’d like to take this moment to give a brief geology lesson. For all the talk of earth residing in a “habitable zone,” life as we know it really shouldn’t exist. A single, fortuitous impact over 4 billion years ago led to the formation of both the moon and earth’s magnetic field, paving the way for the life of today. Ever since, the two have worked in concert to protect life from the harsh realities of the solar system. The moon stabilizes earth’s rotation while the magnetic field deflects extreme levels of radiation. One can’t imagine the devastation if one were to disappear, let alone both.
At 22, Neymar came into this World Cup as the face of Brazil, bearing the full weight of his nation’s lofty expectations. I initially didn’t think Neymar was up to the task. I’m still not sure that he was, but damn was he ever impressive. He doubled as Brazil’s messianic icon off the pitch, and their creative centerpiece on it – relied upon to an almost detrimental degree in the attack. Most importantly for Brazil, Neymar exuded confidence; his teammates fed off his swagger, and used it as their shield. Neymar placed the pressure of Brazil’s rabidly expectant fan-base squarely on his shoulders, transforming the crushing expectation into a positive energy that allowed them to thrive (or at least not collapse under the pressure, which makes Neymar’s fractured vertebrae almost too perfect in its symbolism).
If Neymar was Brazil’s magnetic field, captain Thiago Silva was their moon. Considered by many to be the world’s top central defender, he spent much of the tournament justifying that billing. Silva demanded discipline and organization from an otherwise scattered backline, and held together a potentially haphazard, heavily emotional Brazilian side that nearly fell into disarray against both Chile and Colombia. He kept the order right up until the moment he finally lost his own head, disqualifying himself from the semifinal with an epically foolish yellow.*
*Although solid on the pitch throughout, Silva wasn’t immune to the heavy emotional burden that weighed on all the Brazilians, save for Neymar. He reportedly was so overwhelmed before the shootout with Chile that he refused to take a penalty kick, requesting to be placed behind even Julio Cesar in the kicking order.
Following the Germany match, Scolari correctly took the blame for the loss. It’s his job to get his team ready regardless of the circumstances, and he plainly failed. This should’ve been a competitive side regardless of Silva and Neymar’s presence. No team should be better equipped to replace a player of Neymar’s caliber with a viable facsimile. Wllian, Oscar, Bernard, and Hulk, though not at the level of Neymar, are among the world’s most creative and dangerous in attack. And though Scolari may have found it more difficult to replace Silva at the heart of his defense, Dante should have been a more than adequate stop-gap.
Scolari, though, must have sensed his team was in trouble. Brazil’s desperate attempt to reinstate Silva for the match revealed as much. The nation’s panic and bizarre inspirational strategy (Neymar masks?) certainly couldn’t have helped the atmosphere in the camp. Brazil’s pre-game display, honoring Neymar during the national anthem, served as yet another reminder of what – and who – they were missing.
As Scolari noted, the match seemed level at the outset. Brazil’s fragile belief, it appeared, was still intact. They, like their fans, were still wearing Neymar’s mask. Germany’s early goal off a set piece cracked the mask’s veneer, their second shattered it. Without Silva and under duress, Brazil’s backline and midfield quickly descended into David-Luiz-helmed anarchy. Without Neymar, the pressure had reached a boiling point. There was no outlet. Brazil had lost both its moon and its magnetic field. Within six minutes the score would be 5-0, and Brazil had lost its World Cup.