Embracing greatness; quiet stardom; the coming autopsy: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil

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For the host nation, it was one of the most demoralizing games in World Cup history – a semifinal embarrassment that saw one the world’s most renown soccer nation humbled in historic fashion. But for the victors, it was a coming-of-age conquest – a result that validated years of promise that’d gone unfulfilled.

Perhaps Germany still needs to win on Sunday to fulfill its goals, but with a 7-1 win over Brazil in Belo Horizonte, the three-time champions gave us a memory that transcends any single game, tournament, or result. This was truly unforgettable – a onslaught that will define this group of players from now until their replacements come through. No matter what happens on this weekend’s final, nobody will forget the heights Germany reached in today’s demolition of Brazil.

Consider that one talking point from today’s semifinal, though the conclusions we can draw from such a strange, lopsided game are less clear. That’s our next stop as we start to dissect today’s shock result:

[MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1, yes 7-1, to make eighth World Cup final ]

1. Germany makes its claim to greatness

As Brazil 2014’s progressed, some begun to bemoan the lack of a truly great team, apparently seeing that as a requirement for anybody who lifts the World Cup Trophy. Never mind that fact that the last six World Cups have only produced three clearly great teams (Spain 2010, Brazil 2002, France 1998). This year’s tournament just fizzling out great without a transcendent squad, the thinking implied.

After today’s performance, that qualm should morph into a question: Is Germany this tournament’s great one? Considering what we saw in the first half, it’s a fair question. When you put-up five goals in 19 minutes against the tournament favorites, performances against Algeria and Ghana become understandably overlooked.

The Germans will need another dominant stretch on Sunday for history embrace their greatness, but don’t expect anything approaching today’s result. Argentina or the Netherlands will be far better than Brazil, while Germany’s larger body of work suggests this is an exception, not a rule.

But what an exception it was. Brazil was disgustingly bad, but how many teams are capable of a scoring seven in the semifinal against anybody, let alone a team as talented as the Selecao? What other squad in the world would have been able to exploit those errors with such ruthless efficiency? How many teams are capable of bringing it all together to the extent we saw from Germany?

Maybe the Spain that was? Perhaps a team with Lionel Messi could produce this result, but given what we’ve seen from Argentina, that’s purely hypothetical. Beyond those two teams, we have to look back consult history in lieu of the present. Maybe Cruyff’s Dutch teams, on their best day, could have replicated this result.

Perhaps Sunday will prove Germany’s more fallible, less apt to satisfy people’s need for greatness, but for one day in Belo Horizonte, Joachim Löw gave the critics what they wanted. Germany gave us Brazil 2014’s first flashes of greatness, carving out a historic result in the process.

[MORE: Germany vs. Brazil: Looking back at 19 minutes of carnage in Belo Horizonte ]

source: AP
Brazil’s Oscar  after Germany defeated Brazi in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

2. The post-mortem on Brazil will be long, excruciating

The most reasonable explanation for today’s result will likely be “Brazil just played poorly.” Over the last two years, we’ve seen enough to know they’re just not this bad. In fact, they’re usually pretty good. Today was clearly an outlying performance, one that becomes more explicable when you remember Brazil was without Neymar and Thiago Silva. This as just one of those days.

Tactics will be analyzed, individual performances will be vilified, but you don’t end up with such a decisive scoreline without a psychological element. At some point, Brazil snapped mentally, either realizing they were out of their league or psychologically panicking amid the German onslaught. Perhaps it was the pressure and expectations. Maybe it was knowing Neymar and Silva were out. Regardless Brazil turned off.

But the same dangers we face in evaluating Germany — the tendency to give too much weight to a small, outlying period of time — we’ll  also encounter with Brazil. The team was clearly flawed, but they were only flawed relative to the other tournament favorites. Today’s performance was unpredictably out-of-character.

At its most important time, Brazil gave its most disappointing performance. Hopefully, after the autopsy, hopefully fans will see a strong, talented team that fell unforeseeably short.

3. Die nationalmannschaft’s quiet stardom

If you judged by publicity, advertising, and pre-tournament buzz, Mario Götze was probably Germany’s biggest star. Philipp Lahm was most respected, and perhaps Thomas Müller was his side’s most productive, but Götze was the brightest of the Mannschaft’s stars. A starter at the beginning of the tournament, the Bayern Munich attacker is still seen as the future of his national team.

On Tuesday, however, the 22-year-old didn’t get on the field. Instead, it was a slew of slightly less publicized talents. Not that Müller, Toni Kroos, or Sami Khedira lack in renown, but they’re rarely discussed amongst the game’s elites. And among players that are considered as their generation’s defining players, you rarely hear the names Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, or Lahm, even though all three garner tremendous respect.

source: AP
Germany’s Miroslav Klose gestures as he is substituted during in Belo Horizonte. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

In a tournament where finding the next Diego Maradona is an obsession, where the performances of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are judged in terms of their ability to carry countries on their shoulders, Germany has nobody in that conversation. In the soccer world, the team’s entire lineup draws acclaim. As far as transcendent stars, though, there isn’t a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the bunch.

Yet here we are, trying to put a 7-1 win over the host nation, the pre-tournament favorite, in perspective. Klose now holds the all-time record for World Cup goals, while Müller, only 24 years old, is already up to 10 career tallies. Manuel Neuer has been among the best goalkeepers at the tournament, while the acclaim of head coach Joachim Löw will only grow after this dismantling. As the spotlight on German grows, they’ll be plenty of fame to go around.

But make a list of the most famous players in the world, and you’ll probably go 10, 12 deep before writing a German name. As their accomplishments start to match their promise, though, the quality of their stars will be undeniable.

Perhaps there’s no Messi, Ronaldo, or Ibrahimovic in their ranks, but a more quiet stardom may prove more successful. Whether we consider the Müllers, Krooses, or Khediras amongst the games best, they just produced one of the game’s more impressive results. Perhaps limiting them to mere stars does them a disservice.

 

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.