Germany must capitalise on super win
It was a historic result in Belo Horizonte, probably the most outrageous scoreline that will ever be recorded in World Cup football.
But Germany's aim -- make that their absolute, fundamental need -- will be to make sure they won't just be remembered for that "miracle" against a shell-shocked, completely devastated Brazil.
Joachim Low's men, however, have to come home with more than happy memories of a semifinal win.
You could see it in the faces of the players of the final whistle. They almost felt sorry for beating the Selecao by such a exuberant margin. They didn't take pleasure in inflicting this amount of pain. They just wanted to get the job done.
Celebrations, euphoria? No, thanks.
"A bit of humility is in order now," said a very collected Low. "We move on. We have to make sure we will stay focused."
Thomas Muller, too, pleaded for a sense of perspective. "After the Algeria game, they slaughtered us," said the Bayern forward and scorer of the all-important first goal. "Now they want to elevate us to the heavens. That's the wrong approach. We are simply a pretty good team."
Muller, 24, probably meant it. Germany are a pretty good team. Just doing their thing, playing at an acceptable level. They can still play better. In all likelihood, they will have to play better on Sunday in Rio.
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In that assessment, there was the recognition that Brazil had made it easy by losing their heads and running into an "open knife," as the saying in Germany goes.
All Muller & Co. had to do was watch Luiz Felipe Scolari's rudderless, overawed side impale themselves. After the fourth or fifth goal, the law of diminishing returns kicked in.
The six Bayern Munich players on the pitch for Germany (Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller) would have recognised the symptoms: with every additional goal, your achievement becomes smaller, along with the perceived level of quality of the opposition.
This Brazil team were still Brazil, however -- in Brazil. General manager Oliver Bierhoff had described Germany's chances to win the World Cup in South America as virtually impossible not long ago, and a lot of people had bought into the argument.
Low had dared to disagree at the time, but only quietly. Now, it's no longer a question whether they win but whether they'll somehow not win it. Whoever joins them in the final will be ranked outsiders. That will present its own challenges. But this wasn't the night to start worrying about that.
By the end of the 90 minutes in Belo Horizonte, it was churlish to think of this game as revenge for the 2-0 defeat in the 2002 final. There had been no account to settle to begin with. A very different Brazil won in Yokohama against a very different Germany team.
Rudi Voller's team didn't expect to make it that far. They shouldn't have made it that far. They got to the final by the skin of their teeth and a series of 1-0 wins (versus USA, Paraguay, South Korea), thanks to an inspired Oliver Kahn in goal, the inspirational captain Michael Ballack, and a disciplined, selfless supporting cast who ran, toiled, ran and toiled.
Nobody really thought they should beat the Brazil of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Ironically, Voller's team played their best game of the tournament and nearly caused an upset but upon their return, they were feted like plucky underdogs, enjoyable losers who had done the best with the limited possibilities at their disposal. You don't cry for revenge when you know that your defeat was fully deserved.
The 7-1 win over the same opponents in what was only the second meeting at this level was not payback, nor retribution, nor did it have much to do with Brazil at all.
By reaching their first World Cup final since 2002, a random semi-success sandwiched in between the worst tournament performances since World War II (Euro 2000, Euro 2004), they have done something a bit bigger: They've reestablished themselves at a level and status that they last enjoyed 20 years ago.
This Germany, this "pretty good team," are back at the very top of international football. The uncertain, unnerving times of decline (1990-1998), of stagnation (2002), of fragile renaissance (2006) and unfinished improvement (2010-2012) are over.
Low's Germany no longer have to wonder where they're going. They have arrived. All that's left to do now is to make sure that they don't come down from the historic highs of this tournament empty-handed.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is author of Englischer Fussball.