Five Points: How Germany turned Brazil's World Cup dreams into a nightmare
JUL 08, 2014 10:30p ET
It takes more than one or two factors to create the circumstances behind the sensational proceedings in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Germany 7, Brazil 1 does not result from one or two players having a bad day or one or two adjustments turning the proceedings. A confluence of events must occur in order to create an unprecedented score line at this stage of the World Cup.
The basics -- Germany were fantastic, Brazil were wretched -- are easy enough to digest. The specifics will draw scrutiny for years and years to come. This edition of Five Points starts the process by sketching out how the Germans were able to send Brazil to a first defeat on home soil in 39 years in such emphatic and humiliating fashion.
Brazil compensated for the loss of Neymar by chasing the game too earnestly
Most of the discussion heading into the match surrounded the loss of Neymar and the corresponding impact on Brazil going forward. Luiz Felipe Scolari and his players apparently took the debate a little too much to heart. Scolari made two rather anticipated changes -- Dante filled the gaping hole left by Thiago Silva and Luiz Gustavo returned from suspension to replace Paulinho in central midfield -- and rather surprisingly selected Bernard to assume Neymar’s role on the left.
Bernard’s inclusion tipped off a more expansive intent from the start in a bid to replace Neymar’s singular brilliance. Instead of retrenching without Thiago Silva to organize the back four and using Ramires or Willian to aid the shape and play on the counter, Brazil opted to pursue the game. Marcelo wantonly pushed high on the left without any regard for his defensive responsibilities. Bernard buzzed about willingly. Hulk and Oscar ventured forward in support of the stationary Fred. David Luiz wandered as usual with Dante mostly minding his spot. Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo even forayed into unexpected areas in the early stages.
Those measures led to an initial flurry, but they also constituted a needless risk and ultimately stretched the shape beyond repair. Gaps appeared everywhere. Few players adjusted accordingly to close down the space, compress the structure from back to front and limit the room afforded. And the Germans were plenty good enough to take the invitation and run with it.
Germany adjusted to the space afforded quickly and efficiently
The early exchanges did not distract the Germans from their task. They likely prepared for a bright start from the home side, but they hardly expected such gaping holes to emerge from it. Brazil – for all of its frailties – usually keeps a good structure. They did not manage the feat this time.
It took only a few minutes for the Germans to assess the situation and react accordingly. Thomas Müller dashed reliably into the space left by Marcelo at every possible opportunity. Miroslav Klose should have played him through after four minutes, but he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet. Sami Khedira played two diagonals into that area for Müller inside the first nine minutes to help him exploit it. The entire team focused on quick, vertical passes to expose the loose Brazilian midfield and slice through it promptly. They even accomplished the feat without sacrificing their own solidity because the Brazilians were so stretched.
Brazil may have presented some menace on the surface, but the balance of the game already had already tipped into German favor inside the first 10 minutes. It proved only a matter of time before the floodgates opened.
Müller’s set piece opener highlighted the disheveled Brazilian defense
Brazil spent much of this tournament living on counterattacks and set pieces, but the Selecao crumbled on the opener when asked to repel the same sort of tactics.
The entire sequence started with unkempt work in possession. Hulk and Marcelo conspired to give the ball away on the left flanks with the entire shape exposed behind them. Müller and Khedira collected and marauded forward in tandem through the Brazilian half. Marcelo recovered in time to block Khedira’s attempted cross and give away a corner kick.
Brazil showed only a casual desire to mark German players in the buildup to Toni Kroos’ delivery. Most Brazilian defenders were standing a yard or two away from their defenders. David Luiz -- much to his chagrin moments later -- stood a bit further off Müller as Kroos served his corner.
Müller once again moved intelligently in the final third to punish David Luiz for his indiscipline. Müller shuffled horizontally toward the far post in lieu of making a more direct run to the near post and used the pile as a pick of sorts. Dante and Mesüt Ozil came between David Luiz and Müller as Kroos’ cross floated toward the back post. Ozil stood up Dante and forced him into David Luiz’s path. The two Brazilian defenders collided. Müller ghosted free with that clever run and tucked home the opener unmarked.
It proved a critical juncture in the game because it essentially prompted Brazil to continue along the same destructive course. Instead of closing down the space and sorting out its stretched shape after conceding, the Selecao doubled down on its pursuit to disastrous consequences.
Ruthless efficiency led to a famous German result
Brazil’s refusal to adjust in central midfield to cope with Khedira, Kroos and Schweinsteiger or temper the runs of Maicon and Marcelo left the home side exposed on the break when its sweeping diagonals didn’t work. Germany kept its own structure well -- Mats Hummels continued to stand out in central defense as the rearguard coped with the threat, while Philipp Lahm’s continued presence at right back resolved any of the lingering issues there -- and waited for the inevitable opportunities to arrive.
The second goal -- a collection of clever movements and cutting passes facilitated by poor closing and slack tracking from a throw on the right – sent Klose to the top of the World Cup goalscoring charts and incredibly snapped any lingering resolve after just 23 minutes. Kroos scored twice more and Khedira snatched the fifth before the stunned Brazilians could even figure out how to respond.
It looked like a training ground exercise for that six-minute stretch given Germans' seemingly effortless brilliance, but it exacted genuine consequences. Germany grasped the opportunity presented with both hands and relied on its own stunning performance to rip apart the host nation and secure a place in the final. The combination of utter capitulation and sublime quality produced a result for the ages.
Argentina, Netherlands will feel the impact of this result
There is no direct correlation between what happened in Belo Horizonte and what will unfold in Sao Paulo on Wednesday afternoon, but it may influence the proceedings nevertheless.
Argentina and Netherlands cannot ignore the ramifications of the heavy Brazilian defeat when they meet in the other semifinal (4:00p.m. ET). Brazil reinforced the peril of veering away from the tested methods to reach this stage. Expect both teams to take the lessons on board as they try to navigate a way through.
Lionel Messi will attempt to take center stage once again for Argentina. His teammates will look to spread the field horizontally to provide him with some room and sustain the more resolute defensive shape from the semifinal win over Belgium. Netherlands will hope to catch the Argentinians out when they commit numbers forward to deploy their stunning counter appropriately, but they also understand the need to maintain the right structure and mind their defensive responsibilities.
The balance here -- assuming both teams stick to their expected courses – ensures a tighter affair. The cautionary tale provided by the Brazilians, however, practically assures it.