A shocking exit for Scolari and Brazil
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Eventually, you run out of ideas.
At 1-0, the yellow-clad population of the Estadio Mineirao groaned. A bloody nose, yes. But stick some cotton in and suck it up.
At 2-0, there was incredulity. A young lady in the stands raised her hand, thumb in, digits extended over her open mouth.
3-0 and 4-0 were one and the same. Two stabs from Toni Kroos in the space of 69 seconds, the fastest brace in the history of the World Cup. Like burning yourself on a hot stove and then stubbing your toe when you jump away in pain. Hurt and more hurt. No time in between to react. But afterward, it was defiance. Chants of "Bra-sil! Bra-sil!" Not lame but full-throated, perhaps as a way of venting anger at the players.
At 5-0, folks began to make their way to the exits. Twenty-nine minutes had passed. Read it again. TWENTY-NINE. But people had seen enough. It wasn't a majority, obviously, not even a significant plurality, but enough that you would notice. They filed away silently, looking away from the pitch, a yellow goo oozing toward the stairwells.
Halftime was predictable: boos and catcalls rained down mercilessly and echoed in the cavernous Mineirao. If before kickoff the ground's acoustics had amplified the Brazilians' sound, now -- after five goals -- it was a roar.
At 6-0, the wrath seemed focused on one man. Fred, the mustachioed centre-forward who for the past weeks had flailed in carrying the torch passed on by the legendary Selecao strikers of yesteryear, from Ronaldo and Romario all the way back to Pele and Arthur Friedenreich. In truth, the insults, expletives and bile vomited in his direction had begun at the start of the second half, perhaps when the realization hit he was still on the pitch. They rose to a crescendo after Andre Schurrle made it six, and Fred laconically made way for Willian.
At 7-0, it was simple. They rose as one and offered up an ovation. Schurrle's goal -- his second -- was pretty, but it wasn't Diego Maradona-against-England-in-1986 pretty. Were they applauding him? The Germans? Were they being sarcastic? Was it all of the above? Or was this merely the last possible reaction they could think of, having exhausted all others?
By the time Oscar fixed the final score at 7-1, there had been scuffles in the stands (at least five distinct ones -- all among Brazil fans -- visible from the press tribune). There had also been a period of "oles" at every German touch. Fans do this when they're well ahead, either to celebrate their own side's supremacy or to mock their opponent's futility ("See? They finally strung two passes together."). This was different.
It was perhaps as unprecedented as a nation with five stars above its crest losing 7-1 at home in a World Cup semifinal.
There is no script for this. It's virgin territory for everyone involved. You don't know how to react. Luiz Felipe Scolari, looking as if he had sailed with Charles Marlow into the heart of darkness (only instead of finding Kurtz, he found Kroos), insisted afterward that life goes on.
It does. It just won't be the same.
"We tried to do what we could, and we did what we thought was best," he said. "But in six or seven minutes, they scored three or four goals [four in six minutes actually, but you wouldn't blame the shell-shocked Scolari for getting it wrong], and they did it in an extraordinary manner. It was one after the other. We tried [from the bench] to talk to them, to get them to stop for a second, but we just could not."
In a situation such as this, you wonder if it's even worthwhile talking about tactics. Schemes and formations, after all, often mutate after one goal, usually after two and, well, when you're 5-0 down inside the time it takes to watch a rerun of "Glee," there really is no such thing anymore.
Scolari was devoid of his best player, Neymar, and his captain and defensive stalwart, Thiago Silva, but to his credit, he didn't use the absences as an excuse. "It would have made no difference," he said. "What was Neymar going to do?"
Scolari tried to channel emotions and turn a negative into a neutral or maybe even a positive. David Luiz and Julio Cesar held up the missing talisman's No. 10 jersey, and even the mascots ("player escorts," as FIFA like to call them) sang their little lungs out during a raucous rendition of the Brazilian anthem.
Scolari had gone for the jugular, with the same 4-2-3-1 formation he's played throughout the tournament, which many thought he'd abandon against the Germans. Little Bernard, all 5-foot-5 of him, the hometown hero, slotted into the wing, with Oscar shifting inside while Fernandinho and the returning Luiz Gustavo were ready to do battle. There were moments in the first few minutes when it looked like the old-style 4-2-4 Vicente Feola might have used in 1958.
But that lasted until the first German goal in the 11th minute, when David Luiz somehow lost Thomas Muller in the penalty box and gifted him the easiest of side-foot finishes from a few yards out.
"Everything was organized, everything was calm until the goal was scored," Scolari said. "Then everything became disorganized, everything was panicked."
For his part, Joachim Low offered up the same formation that beat France -- with Philipp Lahm tucked in at right-back -- but with one crucial tweak. When he saw Scolari's lineup, he shifted Sami Khedira from his role alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of the back four to one further forward next to Kroos. A 4-2-3-1 became 4-1-4-1 or, if you like your lingo, from triangle up to triangle down.
Kroos-Khedira became a two-man gang of outlaws plundering the Brazilian passing lanes and scything their way past the feeble yellow barriers. They prompted the next four goals, including the one that allowed Miroslav Klose to become the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history by passing Ronaldo's mark of 15.
"They suddenly were not so well organized, they were hitting long balls, and we took advantage," Low said. "We hit them with fast counterattacks, and we knew that it would cause them problems."
The game was over at halftime, except for the record books that would record Schurrle's brace and Oscar's strike. (Don't call it a "consolation goal." Don't you dare.)
Afterward, Luiz apologized in a tearful television interview. Oscar was a fountain of tears too, alternately cuddled by Silva, himself bawling, and Schurrle, his club teammate. Julio Cesar said that, in place of this, he would much rather have lost 1-0 while making the mistake that cost his team the game. That way, there would only be one scapegoat.
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Instead, there are many.
"I am responsible," Scolari said. "I pick the team, I prepare the team. Though if you ask my players, they will also say they're responsible because we are a team and we share victories and defeats. But for me, when I look at my life as a player, a coach, a teacher ... yes, it is the worst day of my life. I will be remembered as the man who lost 7-1 in Brazil in a World Cup semifinal."
Low was as magnanimous as he could be, given the circumstances. After all, eight years ago, as Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant, he too saw his team come up short as host nation in a World Cup semifinal.
"I know how Scolari feels," he said. "I remember 2006 and losing to Italy and the disappointment of a nation."
He was being kind. As gut-wrenching as 2006 might have been to Germany, giving up a goal in the 119th minute of a match is not the same as giving up five within 30 minutes and losing 7-1, after 39 years of avoiding defeat in competitive matches on home soil.
Low knows there isn't much you can take from this game, other than the result. His men found themselves in a freakish situation, they kept their heads, and they executed. If he's concerned about his troops being grounded and not getting carried away, he can take solace in the words of Kroos.
"For a minute, we had trouble believing we were really 5-0 up," he said. "I mean, when do you ever win a semifinal 7-1?"
"But we have one more game to go," he continued. "Nobody has ever become world champion in the semifinals."
Those are the words of a young man who knows what he wants and knows how to get it -- and they're just what Low wanted to hear.
Germany and Brazil entered a twilight zone on Tuesday. One nation emerged to find itself 90 minutes from becoming champion of the world. The other has wounds that won't heal for a long time.