The Samba beat that has given this fabulous 2014 World Cup a lively, rhythmic and infectious soundtrack played its final note in Belo Horizonte as the boys from Brazil were completely overthrown by a typically ruthless and efficient display from Joachim Low’s German team, who must now be considered overwhelming favourites to lift the World Cup trophy for a fourth time on Sunday evening.
Damage done in a devastating 18 minute first half spell – where Thomas Mueller, Miroslav Klose, Sami Khedira and the vastly understated and underrated Toni Kroos, who scored twice, broke 200 million hearts – Brazil limped out of the tournament in such a catastrophic and shocking way that it arguably usurped the failures of Spain, England, Italy and Portugal; European powers who all perished at the group stage which now seems a generation ago.
It was an incredibly rude awakening for Luis Felipe Scolari, who has since declared the result part of his “worst day” in football. It is however stark reality that his team had been in danger of humiliation from the very start of the World Cup, and that only two factors – Neymar Jr. and the brilliant, fanatical support from the Brazilian supporters that have added so much noise and colour to this phenomenal show – carried the Selecao to this stage. A nod, of course, to Brazil’s suspended captain Thiago Silva, but even he had failed to hide weaknesses within the Brazilian backline that had been exploited by Croatia, Cameroon and Chile earlier on in the tournament. Without Silva and Neymar, logic suggested Germany should progress. Nobody dare thought that logic would be proved so fiercely right.
At the start of the tournament Brazil were caused problems by the appreciated, but ultimately not feared, attacking prowess of Croatia. Marcelo, who has suffered a hugely disappointing time in his homeland, scored the first goal of the party. For Croatia. It all seems to fit neatly into place now. Little did we know that this error in judgement from a Champions League winner would be so prophetic in highlighting just how frail the host nation’s defence was. Neymar, with a scuffed shot and by converting a penalty striker Fred was extremely lucky to win, saved his country’s blushes. Mexico came next, and although Queens Park Rangers outcast Julio Cesar wasn’t beaten in this game it was clear that Brazil were never comfortable despite being on top. Finally in the group came Cameroon; already out of the tournament thanks to negative tactics, inept defending and civil war. They hadn’t looked like scoring in their two previous games but had the nerve to draw level at 1-1 against the home side before common sense prevailed. It was Thiago Silva at fault for that goal, but Brazil had achieved their first objective.
At one stage in those final group games there only needed to be another goal either way to see Mexico leapfrog Brazil to top the group. That would have left Scolari sweating over the Netherlands in the second round. Robben. Van Persie. Instead they faced Chile, who along with Colombia had earned the respected ‘dark horses’ tag in their clinical dismantling of World Champions Spain in Group B. Brazil took the lead, but once again a defensive error, this time from the attack minded Hulk, let in Alexis Sanchez to equalise. Ebb and flow until the end of extra time, where Mauricio Pinilla almost did Germany’s work for them by smashing the crossbar with seconds to go. It went to penalties, Cesar was the hero and Brazil had stumbled into the quarter finals to face the other dark horse.
Much had been made about James Rodriguez, and Brazil’s henchmen seemed to try and nullify his obvious threat with challenges that bordered on reckless. With Rodriguez contained, the yellow shirted national heroes allowed focus to be taken away from their defence, but not their defenders, for an hour – Silva and David Luiz scoring goals vastly different in their application. Defensive question marks soon returned. Cesar was left exposed as he brought down Colombian attacker Carlos Bacca. Rodriguez’s penalty left Brazilian hearts in mouths but he couldn’t help muster an equaliser that his teammates arguably deserved.
The evidence was there throughout. Implosion against the brilliant Germany was always likely in a team made up of individuals that suffered with its lack of cohesion, especially when missing the vastly influential Silva. Luiz, who Paris St Germain have paid an incredible £50 million for, has been made the villain of the piece but Marcelo, Dani Alves, Maicon, Dante and Cesar all have questions to answer. Even Fernandinho, a revelation in the blue of Manchester City this season, only performed to the best of his capability in patches throughout June and into July. Yes, Brazil’s progress only benefitted what was already a brilliant tournament, but it can be argued that Brazil wouldn’t have made the quarter finals if they hadn’t been playing in Brazil, such is the way that they have faltered through on a wave of local, vociferous support. They were certainly two or three players short of winning this desired and illustrious trophy, and huge improvements must be made if they are to be considered serious challengers in the unchartered territory of Russia four years from now.