The questions seemed to weigh on Brazil’s defenders before the first half was even done. Increasingly confounded by failure after failure, allowing Germany to become the first semifinalist to score five goals in a half, the faces of David Luiz and Júlio César seemed desperate to figure out why this had happened. How did Brazil, a team that had only conceded four times in five games, allow itself to be down 5-0 in the 29th minute?
For the most soccer-crazed nation in the world, the post-mortem will be long and painful. In the past, government inquiries have been assembled to assess the team’s failures, though that probably won’t be required after such a clear, resounding result. From the midfield to the edge of César’s six-yard box, Brazil gave one of the tournament’s worst defensive performances. It was baddest of bad days.
It also highlighted the short-comings we saw in the build up. In Brazil’s opening game, a late, controversial penalty call have the pre-tournament favorites a go-ahead goal against Croatia. Against Mexico, the Selecao may have been the better side, but they weren’t playing up to the standards that made them favorites after last year’s Confederations Cup. The dominance Brazil showed in that tournament’s final against Spain never appeared at the World Cup.
In the knockout round, thing started to change. Brazil needed penalty kicks to beat Chile, by which time la Roja were a much-respected side. Advancing via a tiebreaker wasn’t ideal, but it was still viewed as progress. After a strong but volatile performance in the quarterfinals against Colombia, the question was less whether Brazil was headed in the right direction than whether their trajectory was steep enough.
Clearly, it wasn’t. If the first five games were the foundation, Brazil was on uneven ground. They’d yet to have a performance like Germany’s against France or Portugal, or the Netherlands’ against Spain or Chile. They had no proof of how good they were.
Add in the absences of Neymar and Thiago Silva, and the team was practically wounded. Perhaps today’s collapse was unpredictable, but after five matches that’d answered few questions, there was little reason beyond history and home field hope to believe in the Selecao.
That needed to be established before the semifinals. Over its first five games, Brazil needed to prove, to itself as much as everybody else, that the team could play at Germany’s level. But after the team fell behind in the first half, that belief wasn’t there.
Beating Colombia was something, but so was being drawn by Chile and Mexico. As Germany applied pressure with little regard for Brazil’s ability to pass through it, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team no longer had a proof of concept to fall back on. Paralyzed by disbelief, they were set up to be run over.
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Be it in sports, science, or socially, it takes a confluence of remarkable factors to create any outlying result. Today, Brazil was without its two best players and while facing one of the more talented teams in the world. The pressure on them was extreme, with the stakes of a World Cup compounding any anxiety they felt after conceding so early. By the middle of the first half, everything had snowballed.
Part of that snowball was the preparation – an initial five games where Brazil failed to show significant progress. While that’s not enough to say today’s result was foreseeable, it was a contributing factor. Come the semifinals, Brazil wasn’t prepared to match Germany’s level.