Eight goals were scored in the ninety minutes of the World Cup semi-final yesterday between Brazil and Germany. Unfortunately for Brazil, seven of them were scored by Germany. Five of them came in the first half, in an eighteen minute stretch that began in the 11th minute and concluded with a four-goal burst in six minutes starting in the 23rd and ending in the 29th. It was horrible and terrifying to watch; when the fourth goal was scored in the 26th minute, I experienced something I never had while spectating an international sporting encounter: I wanted the game to be stopped, for the carnage to be halted.
Even though it much vexes me to say this, the state of the Brazilian team in those fatal six minutes can be best compared to an army suddenly routed on the battle-field. A unifying principle, a point of resolution, a central anchoring–whatever it might be, morale, leadership, or espirit de corps–gives way, collapses, comes undone. And then, suddenly, visible for all to see, the crumbling, the shattering, the disorganized fleeing of the troops. Germany’s first goal, in the eleventh minute, had already done a great deal to suck the wind out of an already-suspect Brazilian lineup, not quite sure whether its bravado in the face of the Neymar injury and the pressure of being the hosts would hold up. But when the second goal was scored, much more went wrong.
At that point, some folks just gave up. Their shoulders drooped; they stopped paying attention; they stopped running hard. But their opponents did not. The Brazilians soon found out that in international soccer, scorelines are as low as they traditionally are because defenses play switched-on. When they are disengaged, as Brazil’s most certainly was, the opponents, skilled exponents of football themselves, can score at will. Which they did, goal after goal.
It was terrifying to watch; a horrible demonstration of the worst fate that can befall a sporting unit. It was an acute reminder of the cruelty that is always possible in sport: the utter annihilation of hopes and dreams, every weakness and failing exposed and exploited under the most pitiless of examinations. At the twenty-nine minute mark, sixty-one minutes still remained to be played.
No one, not even the Germans, I think, would have been upset at the game being suspended at that point. It had ceased to be a contest, and had instead become a spectacle of the damned.