Bayern Munich has become the dominant side in European competition and its production of gifted young attacking players is the envy of the world. And yet somehow, the national team, for all this was its fourth successive semifinal, had flattered to deceive. Was it, critics of manager Jogi Low wondered, a case of a great players and a not great coach? But this, at last, a 7-1 triumph over World Cup host Brazil, was the moment at which it all came together.
It’s still true that if Germany fails to win the final on Sunday, this will be the longest trophy drought in its history, but Low will always have this night, the time his side looked into the teeth of the storm, and, with stereotypical German self-assurance, was unimpressed. Others had quailed in the face of Brazilian hysteria, but Germany just kept playing.
Others, perhaps, would have been nonplussed by Brazil’s capitulation, the pitiful way this most indulged and emotional of teams lost any semblance of discipline between the 23rd and 29th minutes, but Germany just kept playing the quick, simple passes that are its hallmark when it’s at its best.
“From minute one we had the impression that anything was possible,” said German midfielder Toni Kroos, who scored twice and was named man of the match. “In the first minutes we had some chances. We realized the Brazilians were a bit upset and not clear in their actions. We took advantage and scored one goal after another. We had problems believing that after a few minutes it was suddenly 5-0.”
He was right, of course. Brazil had been made even more febrile than usual by the occasion and the emotion around Neymar’s absence, and once Germany went ahead, the Selecao suffered some sort of collective breakdown.
“Of course normally the difference is not that big,” Kroos said. “Of course they have great players and they had the greater pressure on their shoulders. They had to be world champions at home. We felt that during the entire tournament and that in no match so far had they played to their best. We pushed them all the time and didn’t let them get their rhythm.”
Low sympathized with Brazil, saying its situation was similar to that Germany in 2006 when, with Low as asssitant to Jurgen Klinsmann, it was beaten 2-0 by Italy in the World Cup semifinal on home soil.
“At 2-0 you realized they were confused and never got back to their organization, we were extremely cool in taking these chances. We realized they were cracking up and took advantage. We were lucky hosts the were not that well organized and were shell-shocked. They were unable to deal with the pressure. There’s never been such a big scoreline (in a semifinal) but let’s no overrate it.”
It was a typically measured response that highlighted the difference between Brazil and Germany. As Brazil wept – wept at wins, wept at the anthem, wept at an injury and wept at a defeat – Germany remains level headed.
“It’s obvious for us have we delivered a marvelous performance,” said Kroos. “If somebody had said we would win 7-1 we never would have believed him. After the first match I said we were here to be world champions, but let’s not forget there’s still one match ahead of us.”
If there’s any side that can keep resetting it’s emotions before the final, it is Germany. This, after all, is the product of years of development. There’s an awareness there’s a job to finish. At the 2010 World Cup, Germany was a superb reactive side. Its front four was superbly well-drilled on the counterattack, repeated work on created space and pulling apart retreating defenses making it devastating when it could play on the counter – as it did in demolitions of England and Argentina in the last 16 and quarterfinal. After a 1-0 semifinal defeat to Spain in which it struggled to impose itself, Low began the process of changing to a more proactive approach.
Until Tuesday, he had made Germany an even better attacking side, but one with huge defensive question marks. Even earlier in this tournament, against Ghana and Algeria most notably, there was an openness about the structure of the side that raised severe doubts about whether it could go on to be world champion.
The quarterfinal against France, though, and the restoration of the Sami Khedira-Bastian Schweinsteiger partnership at the back of midfield, was decisive. Low had seemed stubborn in his insistence he would keep playing Philipp Lahm in midfield, but for that game he changed his mind, perhaps in one of the long solitary runs he has been taking along the beach. It wasn’t so much a case of buckling and doing what his critics demanded than of having the self-belief to do what he had decided was right, even though some might have interpreted it as weakness.
This was a Germany, at last, that combined the fluency of the attacking line with a defensive solidity and resolve, the ideal fusion of the rigor of 2010 with the more expansive approach of the four years since. Perhaps even more importantly, it is a Germany playing with great resolve and, in contrast to Brazil, with great calm. It’s been a long way for this.