Here’s the long-anticipated semifinal that nobody anticipated.
It’s Brazil-Germany, the World Cup semifinal everybody and his futbol-expert sister could have forecast seven months ago, when the draw emerged and the agony began. And it’s Brazil-Germany, barely recognizable from the vision of that Brazil-Germany.
It’s here, but life has wrung some life from it.
The stalwart Germany always did figure to go up against a wave; that wave just didn’t figure to include an opponent (and opponents’ fans) aggrieved. Brazil always did figure to go up against homeland pressure; its inconvenience just didn’t figure to include the absence of both its captain and its best player. Germany has reached 13 World Cup final fours. Brazil has reached 11. Guess it’s time they played an eccentric one.
It’s the Germany we expected, but not quite; it’s the Brazil we expected, but not close.
For the run-up, we’ve all seen a guy break his 3-a vertebra more than a thousand times on Brazilian TV. You turn around and look up at the bar, and there’s that knee in the back again. You walk the street, turn the corner — here comes that knee, coursing through the air in slo-mo. Wait, here it is again.
The Germany of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer always did figure to need every iota they learned in semifinal losses to Italy in 2006 (in extra time) and Spain in 2010 (by 1-0). They would enter Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte with their exhilarating attack — Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos — and face booming fans demanding victory, probably a scared ref to boot. They might even come in on a bed of art, a new Germany much like the one that tore apart England and Argentina for eight goals total toward the semifinal in 2010.
Instead, after a rousing 4-0 opener against Portugal, they’ve grinded through on toughness and knowhow in knockout wins over Algeria and France. There’s a sense their most exhilarating match might yet lurk within them.
The Brazil of Neymar and Thiago Silva and Hulk and Oscar always did figure to face a tanker load of pressure. They would have the whole of the 2002 million on their clavicles. They might even come in on a bed of dominance, a sense of the best nation ever in the World Cup playing something like the best nation ever in the World Cup.
Instead, they’ve gone ugly, surviving Chile by an inch and Colombia by 31 fouls. Now they go without Neymar with the broken vertebra — wait, here it is again — and without Thiago Silva, the captain who apparently broke his brain before impeding a goalkeeper (resulting in a disqualifying yellow card). There’s a sense their most exhilarating match doesn’t exist.
They intend to play this anyway. Well, sometimes low expectations can help.