It’s seven games, you see. Just seven.
The World Cup takes a month to unfold, and with so many matchups, goals, subplots and twists, it’s easy to forget, from the first game to the final, it is only seven steps.
Germany, the team and its management, understood this in the precise, impactful way that matters, that makes winners. Prepare for each game separately, fashion a strategy specific to each one, then throw it aside and move on to a precision-engineered plan for the next. That’s how they destroyed Brazil in the semi-final.
Before the match, consensus was that it was a toss-up, the closest game on the betting-odds board this whole tournament. Brazil, without Neymar and Silva, was vulnerable. Ah yes, said the deep-thinkers with beard-stroking consideration, but the Brazilians have home advantage, passion and tons of raw talent. Besides, they can play agressively, with theatrical showmanship, to spook the opposition and the referee, if necessary. Gives them an edge.
Even Nate Silver favoured Brazil to edge it. The American statistician/writer, famous for his accurate, data-based predictions about baseball and election campaigns, said on his blog, “Even without Neymar and Silva, the team remains the leading contender to win the World Cup in our estimation. You may or may not agree with the math, but the intuition behind it is this: Soccer is a team sport, and Brazil is a very deep team.”
That, it turns, is so not true. You can keep your data, dude.
It would be easy to explain away the astonishing scoreline, 7-1, as the fundamental and structural collapse of Brazil. It would be tempting – and many will not resist it – to point to the absence of Neymar at the front and Silva at the back as rather like removing the supporting joists of a building and watching it fall down. In Brazil, after the brooding stops, Neymar’s absence will be woven closely into the core mythology of this World Cup.
All of that would be insulting to Germany. Appallingly so. Germany prepared for this match, studied hard, and implemented a winning plan of attack.
Maybe it was a meltdown by Brazil that will enter the annals of international soccer and, whenever mentioned, people will shake their heads in disbelief. But it happened for a reason. It was engineered.
Germany manager Joachim Low gave the watching world a master class in tactical arrangement and planning. It was evident from the lineup announced before the start that Germany intended to anchor everything in a straight line down the middle, from Bastian Schweinsteiger to Miroslav Klose. The two veterans had not started all of Germany’s matches in this World Cup, but putting them in here against Brazil was a signal. Germany would soak up Brazil’s aggressive speed and attack, and then counterattack straight down the middle.
It worked, beautifully. Schweinsteiger played deep, and he’s rarely spent so much time so close to his own goalkeeper. But he was there, cunning, always knowing where Klose was in front of him, and getting him the ball through Toni Kroos or Thomas Mueller, was the plan.
Germany had noted that Brazil, in previous games, had never settled on a specific midfield roster or positioning. Sometimes Fernandinho, sometimes Paulinho, sometimes David Luiz improvised the role and got the ball to Neymar. Nothing was settled about Brazil’s middle and there, clearly was the vulnerability. After 20 minutes, Germany was driving straight at the Brazil penalty area with blithe ease.
Perhaps even more impressive was the psychological advantage the Germans had. Low had talked in advance about the Brazilians’ “brutal” behaviour in the game against Colombia, and insisted his players would need to be protected by the referee. He also referred to some actions by Brazil’s players as “completely exaggerated,” meaning they claimed to be fouled when nothing had happened.
He wasn’t going let Germany fall into the trap usually set by Brazil – play with speed, fall down if necessary and persistently express outrage.
Early in this match, Marcelo Vieira raced into the German area and Philipp Lahm dispossessed him with a perfectly fair challenge. He got the ball, not the man. Marcelo collapsed in supposed agony. Pure theatrics. It wasn’t Lahm who claimed innocence. It was Germany’s Jerome Boateng who expressed outrage, pointing vociferously to the diving that had just occurred.
That, right there, was when Brazil was finished. No histrionics would work. The theatre part thing was cancelled.
In tactics, mind games, ball possession and pace, Germany had a plan, one fashioned for this game, against this team. And it worked.
Germany indicted its formidable adaptability in previous games. Against France, Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Sami Khedira dominated the midfield, played high and refused to give the French attack any space. On that day, Germany looked vastly different from the team that had been stretched earlier by Algeria. Lesson learned; the next plan was midfield balance and control.
For Germany, each step has been an example of rigorous preparation and execution of a plan. Only one step is left, and Germany will be prepared. Never mind the opposition: It’s all up to German planning now.