The early leader for most common reaction after today’s result: “Brazil just weren’t that good” – five words which, in an ideal world, would go without saying. But we’re not immune to reiterating the point, too. As good as Germany was during today’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte, the host nation may have been just as bad. 7-1’s a dance that requires a partner.
Usually, that partner is a bad one. Looking back at the history of these results (one team scoring seven; winning by six-or-more), you see nations like Bolivia, Ziare, Haiti, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea on the losing end. Even the United States (in 1930), South Korea (1954), and Scotland (1954) make the list – all nations that would prove more competitive at future tournaments. In the 84 years of World Cup play, there’ve only been 12 games where one team scored at least seven times while conceded one or fewer.
The big difference between most of those results and what happened today: 10 out of those 11 came in group stage or the opening round (back when the tournament was only single-elimination). Only one result comes close to today’s in terms of significance, quality of teams, and magnitude of result: Brazil’s 7-1 win over Sweden in 1950’s final four.
Obviously, a lot has changed since 1950. The soccer world is much deeper. The tournament format is completely different. Tactically, more risk-averse styles mean fewer outlandish results.
Consider all of that before writing off what Germany’s done. Yes, Brazil’s quality may have been the main factor, but were the Selecao really history-making bad by themselves? Where they Zaire in 1974 bad? Or as poor as Saudi Arabia in 2002? Were they so bad that we should completely discount Germany’s contributions?
Perhaps, but there’s a far more likely story. A team with David Luiz, Dante, Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho, and Júlio César may have a bad day, but they’d have to reach unexpected lows to match the South Korea team of 1954. And while it’s possible the defensive form the team’s first five games (four goals allowed) was a complete lie, that lie would have to be a huge one to say the team, on its own, was also capable of a performance that rivaled North Korea’s in 2010.
The more likely story is that the finishing we saw from Miroslav Klose, Toni Kroos, and Andre Schürrle played a huge part. The quality in the middle we saw from Kroos and Sami Khedira was also a factor, as were the talents of players like Philipp Lahm, Thömas Müller, Mats Hummels and, early in the second half, Manuel Neuer.
As the score says, Brazil were terrible, but that score also implies they were playing an extremely good team — a team which, since before the 2010 World Cup, people have projected to grow into one of the world’s dominant sides. Tonight may have been our first glimpse of that potential being actualized. Maybe, as bad as Brazil were, they needed to play against a great team to be part of a historic result.
Whether Germany really is a great team, well, that’s where we can get too carried away with what’s happened. That’s where the backlash will come. Right now, there’s a 60-minute stretch that says Germany can be great. With their ascendance has been predicted for some time, their larger body of work doesn’t touch this level.
But for that 60 minutes in the middle of today’s game, Germany were certainly great — undeniably so. They were great in a way not even Brazil’s terrible day could fully overshadow.