A few minutes before the start of the semi-final between Germany and Brazil yesterday I tweeted that all statistics were pointing to a Brazil win. But these statistics are normally there to be broken. With the benefit of hindsight it seemed so obvious.
Nate Silver, an American statistician who mines data was stating without any shadow of doubt that even without Neymar and their star defender Thiago Silva, the Brazilians still had all that it takes to make it through to the final. The expectations were huge. Most of their supporters were expecting Brazil to reach the final and win the World Cup. After all they were playing at home.
But these statistics ignored the most basic premise. This Brazilian team was lucky to be in the semi-finals. They could barely scrape through the last 16 against Chile and only made it by a whisker and the match against Colombia was also a close encounter. With Neymar out because of injury, it was no wonder that they were panicking. But football is a team sport and although stars have a way of hiding mediocrity, they can do little against a well-oiled machine, which the Germans proved to be.
This has been an incredible World Cup. A number of teams considered as minnows or unlikely to qualify from the group phase made it to the last 16 and one would dare say even to the quarter-finals though by this stage of the competition they could no longer be billed as surprises.
A lot has been written about the Brazilian defeat. Clearly it is not everyday that a footballing giant, and Brazil, in this sense is the equivalent of a giant with its 5 World Cup wins, succumbs to such an annihilation which is normally reserved to the minnows of football. Many are still in shock and awe at the extent of a result that is likely to haunt Brazil for generations.
As a former sports journalist covering the Maltese national team, I have experienced quite a few debacles of the national team including a home 8-0 defeat against the Netherlands. When you are used to seeing such matches, yesterday’s humiliating defeat does not come as such a big surprise. There are days in sport when everything goes right for a team and wrong for the other. Yesterday was one such day. Sometimes the difference between a great win and a drub 0-0 are episodes.
Brazil had not lost a home game in 12 years. Never has a European team won a World Cup on American soil but Germany entered the match as favourites, at least to my view because there was one thing which could not be hidden from sight. This was clearly, even before yesterday, one of the most mediocre Brazilian sides that I have seen since I started following football pretty much in the 1980s.
When Germany scored the first goal, it looked like a lapse in the Brazilian defence. At that stage of the game, It was no longer about the missing Neymar but rather about shoddy defending. As Germany piled the pressure and scored four goals in the space of seven minutes it was evident that this was no longer just about football but rather a huge mental collapse of a once mighty footballing nation. The Brazilians showed that two goals down, they could not handle the pressure and went completely into disarray.
The Brazilian defence did not know what had hit them. As for the Germans, many were wondering why Germany did not stop the humiliation. It is easier to look back with the benefit of hindsight. But in sport, the minute you lose concentration is the minute you are no longer in control of what can happen. So for that you need to admire the German machine for a perfect performance.
The Germans had rebuilt their football after a footballing debacle more a decade ago. it is now time for Brazil to go back to the drawing boards and rediscover why it has come to this. This defeat which shocked a nation may end up being a God send if they rebuild their football from scratch. It will clearly be a costly defeat.