Brazil’s Untergang

For commentators on TV networks around the world, human speech was truly a cracked tin kettle Tuesday; if they weren’t expressing their utter disbelief, they were just being silent, gaping at the nothingness of the unprecedented. They didn’t know what to say because they didn’t believe what they were seeing. Not that there was anything to say anyway. Eleven Germans were doing all the talking. They beat Brazil 7-1. In the World Cup semi-final. In Brazil.

The six-minute window in which Brazil conceded four goals at two or three minute intervals will go down as the defining moments of the 2014 World Cup—indeed, as a defining World Cup moment period. What exactly happened in those six minutes? It’s hard to say, because by the time a replay of a goal had finished, another one was in the process of being scored. Nor did Brazil start the game poorly. If anything, they had a bit more momentum in the first five or six minutes. Even after Thomas Müller gave Germany the lead in the twelfth minute, the Brazilians were surging forward at every opportunity. When precisely things went from fine to crushingly poor is hard to pinpoint exactly, but there are six minutes of football to choose from. This was disintegration in the grand style. And that makes victory a strange thing.

Shit happens. Teams collapse—as an Arsenal fan, I know this bitterly. But the fact that Brazil never even looked like recovering, the fact that they kept playing as if surprised that a game exists in which the purpose is to kick a ball around, is what lends this particular game its veneer of unreality. german cupWhen Andre Schürrle came on in the second half he dispatched two more goals in ten minutes — one of which was a real stunner — as if it were routine. In the final minutes, Mesut Özil should have made it eight. Chelsea man Oscar eventually evened the score-line a little, but it only served to remind everyone that Brazil had actually — despite all evidence to the contrary — fielded a team.

And yet, ironically, Tuesday’s game was Brazil’s game. Not just because they were the hosts, but because their combined effort, or consistent lack thereof, was so appallingly bad that it amounts to a kind of inverse achievement. They were a better bad team than the Germans were a good good team.

When I say it was Brazil’s game this is what I mean: the routing was so complete that those among us supporting Germany were not watching them win; we were gawking at the spectacle of Brazil losing. The humiliation of the defeat was so unbearable I half-wished Löw’s boys would concede a few more goals. Worse still was listening to tens of thousands of fans jeering and booing at Brazil’s Fred—a player I’ve spent most of the tournament jeering and booing at—for being serially underwhelming. The psychological fallout of such an experience is devastating. In case you want to know what this defeat really means for the players, go on YouTube and watch the video of Brazil’s Captain David Luiz’s post-match interview. Like thousands of fellow Brazilians he is awash with tears; like millions of football fans he is lost for words.

As for Germany, they must be as surprised as anyone. The trick now will be to stay calm and levelheaded for the final on Sunday—despite having already made World Cup history. I was in Berlin a week ago, and I wish I could have been there tonight. A friend of mine told me she got on the U-Bahn at halftime when the score was 5-0. By the time she got home it was 7-0. People were running from café to bar and back again, setting off fireworks left and right. And yet there was something subdued about the celebrating, as if making too much of this game would be slightly embarrassing. National pride and flag-waving isn’t something Germans are entirely comfortable with, even today. Instead, many were moved to sympathy for the Brazilians. Even the German commentators, apparently, could talk of nothing of else. You almost get the sense now that Germany needs to win on Sunday not only for themselves but because they feel they owe it to the Brazilians. That way, Brazil can say they were demolished by the World Cup champions. If not, it will all have been for nothing.

Morten Høi Jensen: Reservedly Danish. 

Image: Brazil in better days. Pelé’ famed bicycle kick, in competition.