Indulge me for a moment. Let me paint you a scenario. England actually got through the group stages and ploughed on through the competition looking increasingly impressive until they came up against the hosts, Brazil, in the semi-final of the World Cup. Sure, Brazil would be without the talismanic Neymar, plus the suspended skipper and defensive rock, Thiago Silva, but this is Brazil – in Brazil. Nevertheless, England turn in one of the most complete performances in world Cup history to trounce Brazil 7-1. Yes, I know it’s stretching the imagination a little – a lot, in fact – but bear with me a moment longer. Now, just for a few seconds, imagine how the team, the fans and especially the media would be reacting. OK, stop now. Get down from the ceiling. Pull those flags back in from the windows. Calm down, it’s not real.
What is real however, is that Germany completed that that very journey described above. They went into Brazil’s backyard; a place where the Selecao have not lost a competitive game since 1975, and delivered the comprehensive beating of a former champion in the history of the World Cup. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ may well never be beaten as the most outrageous, but fully-deserved result in the World Cup – ever. They turned up at the Copacabana and kicked over Brazil’s castle built on sand.
So what was the reaction of the German team and media? Was it for outlandish celebration? Would they be glorying in the victory? Are they contacting their agents to demand more money for sponsorship deals? Not so much as you’d notice.
Of course it was a result that will inspire a thousand stories as fathers and grandfathers regale their offspring with the story of how the Mannschaft won 7-1 in Brazil, but all that will mean nothing if they then don’t go on and lift the trophy. And overwhelmingly, this is the German response to the victory that would have had England fans consumed – and probably consuming – for weeks.
The always excellent Rafa Hongstein summed it up nicely as the final whistle was blown. In a blog post for www.espnfc.us, he relates the team cannot just be remembered for this semi-final victory, no matter how momentous it may have been. He says that “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 semi-final win.” He sums it up nicely. “Celebrations, euphoria? No, thanks.”
It’s a stance echoed by the German manager Joachim Loew. Calm and pragmatic, he recognised that “A bit of humility is in order now. We move on. We have to make sure we will stay focused.” It’s ‘job done’ for now, but all it has brought for the team is an opportunity to take the next step, the final step. It was a level-headed assessment also supported by Thomas Muller. The goal scorer recognised how sometimes the reactions to both defeats and victories can serve to distract a team’s energies. “After the Algeria game, they slaughtered us,” he said, referring to the press reaction in Germany. “Now they want to elevate us to the heavens. That’s the wrong approach. We are simply a pretty good team.” Probably somewhat better than a “pretty good team” Thomas, but the logic is undeniable.
Strangely, and almost counter-productively, the score line had an inverse logic to it. Beating Brazil in a World Cup semi-final is always a bit special, and beating them comfortably, let’s say 3-0 or so, adds an even brighter gloss to the performance. The problem is however, that when you win by a score line like 7-1, you’re almost telling the world that your opponents were pretty weak. It’s like a footballing law of diminishing returns. There’s an optimum score to exert maximum request, go past it, and each additional goal diminishes the kudos rather than enhancing it. It’s theme Honigstein acknowledges, and uses a German saying that it was like Brazil were running onto an open knife.
When you’re a “pretty good team” having your opponents disparaged when you overwhelm them may be a fairly common occurrence. Low probably won’t mind that however, if it helps to keep minds focused on the task in hand.
Four years ago, Germany went into the World Cup in South Africa with a young team, determined to build for the future. Low is now reaping the rewards for that bold venture. This is no longer a team on the way. It’s a team that has a way, and knows that way works. There’s little doubt that it has arrived on the world stage. But not yet fulfilled.
Thomas Muller also said that “Now we have to keep pushing, give full power and get the cup.” For Low, that sentiment must have been sweet music to his ears. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ has now been written into the record books but the German perspective is that the game is already yesterday’s news. Their focus is very much on the next day – or Sunday to be precise. Be it the Argentinians or Dutch that come up against them, they will know that there’s a task to hand against Low’s focused “pretty good team.” There’s no glorying in the misfortunes of others for this team. Schadenfreude has no place here. The focus is very much on ‘am nächsten tag.’