The darkest night in Brazil’s footballing history? Undoubtedly, yes. There was one that may have come close, 64 years ago, yet this was an occasion that couldn’t be compared to anything that came before.
But for those who inflicted such pitch-black humiliation on the hosts, things have never been brighter. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and the rest of Germany’s golden generation roll on to the Maracana for Sunday’s decider. At this Cup of Cups, they had their night of nights.
They’re a peculiar thing, golden generations, available in just about every shade. None of us is sure if England’s has now passed. Some of us remain doubtful if it ever got here in the first place. For Germany, a country with three World Cup wins and three European Championships to match, how a group who have come up short for over a decade now are cast in gold, we’re also not quite sure.
“We’ve been in at least the semi-finals of the last four World Cup competitions and that just shows that we’ve been playing consistently at the very highest level,” their coach Joachim Löw said on the eve of this battle that became a massacre for the ages.
The problem, however, is that all of their final-four consistency had deserted the Mannschaft since Löw joined the set-up with Jürgen Klinsmann in 2006. Prior to that World Cup on home soil, Germany had won 12 of 15 major championship semi-finals going back over half a century. With Löw on the sidelines – first as apprentice, then as master – they had come out on top just once in four before their fifth attempt here.
That solitary victory, though, was the picture perfect day for the golden generation. It came at St Jakob Park in Basel, a rip-roaring Euro 2008 semi-final as Germany eventually shook off Turkey at the death thanks to a Lahm goal. Schweinsteiger had opened the scoring with Klose grabbing one in between. Between them the veteran trio have 352 caps and 98 goals. That semi-final stands alone as the only time in all those games together that the trio all got on the scoresheet.
Fast forward six years to last Friday at the Maracana and Löw’s men facing France with so many doubts overhead. The coach went back to the past to frame Germany’s immediate future. Klose started, Lahm returned to reassure the defence and Schweinsteiger did his box-to-box fulcrum thing again. Germany being Germany, it worked a treat.
Klose became the first man in history to play in four World Cup semi-finals. For Schweinsteiger and Lahm it was a third. Within a mere 11 minutes it was clear that they were going to taste victory at this stage for the first time. It was Thomas Müller, the heir to Klose’s World Cup crown, who grabbed the opener but in blocking off David Luiz’s tracking run, the lone striker played his part.
Twelve minutes later, there was a reminder from the master to the 24-year-old that for now he is still the apprentice. Klose needed two bites at the cherry but the Brazil defence were serving up an all-you-can-eat buffet. He slid it past the keeper Julio Cesar and stood alone as the greatest World Cup scorer of all time.
In the space of six minutes the lead had stretched from one to five. It was a spell without precedent for any generation. Brazilian bodies in canary shirts crumpled to the floor. But for Germany it made for a yellow-brick road to redemption, the road back to Rio for Sunday’s final. You felt it would have suited all parties if they had set out on the journey and declared at 5-0 on the half-hour.
Klose foraged, Lahm’s searing runs continued and Schweinsteiger pulled strings but he may as well have been plucking strings to a funereal arrangement. It was deathly and it was hollow inside the Mineirao on Brazil’s darkest night. It only got worse as Germany shone on.