Germany’s historic victory over Brazil on Tuesday night was unprecedented but it was also an old football story: the triumph of a team over a set of individuals.
Joachim Löw’s side – unlike Brazil’s gaggle of strangers – were a coherent unit, 11 players with one plan but different roles. And while they were all excellent and indispensable, it was Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira, the twin pistons of their dominant midfield, who stood out the most.
Kroos and Khedira were brilliant throughout, winning the ball quickly, keeping it and surging forward into the Brazil area, meeting with remarkably little resistance. Their opponents, Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo, looked desperately and miserably lost, and were helplessly overrun throughout.
While Thomas Müller ran relentlessly in behind Marcelo, Miroslav Klose occupied the centre-backs, and Philipp Lahm overlapped, Kroos and Khedira waited outside the box, sizing up the gaping spaces in which they hurt Brazil.
Brazil 1 Germany 7 player ratings
Brazil 1 Germany 7 player ratings
1/22 Brazil: Julio Cesar
Having performed so well before, especially in the last 16 against Chile, must have been distraught at the disaster in front of him. Powerless. 4/10
A 32-year-old with that much experience should be taking responsibility, but Maicon never did, simply making the runs he wanted to make. 3
3/22 David Luiz
Instead of showing discipline and leadership, rising to the role of captain, he was abysmal, playing only his own game and abdicating all responsibility. 2
Always unlikely to replace Thiago Silva adequately, and he provided none of the skill, awareness, leadership or discipline his captain does. 3
Conceded the corner for the first goal and never looked especially keen on stopping Germany from adding to their tally. 2
6/22 Luis Gustavo
Asked to provide balance in midfield, he was swamped by Khedira and Kroos, as the spine of this Brazil side melted away in the first half. 3
Utterly outclassed by the German midfield, he could barely get on the ball until scoring his sharp consolation goal. 4
Just as anonymous as he had been for the rest of the tournament and once the damage had been done he was booed and jeered by the fans. 2
Meant to provide energy and presence in midfield but he was dismal, swamped by German numbers and gifting the ball for the fourth. Off at half-time. 2
Did have an opening or two in Brazil’s bright opening but, not for the first time, lacked the skill to take advantage. Did not make the second half. 2
Trusted to fill Neymar’s role, by the time he saw the ball Brazil had already lost. At least he wanted to try things in the second half. 4
12/22 Germany: Manuel Neuer
Did in fact have a few saves to make, early in the second half, and he was impeccable again until Oscar’s late consolation goal. 7/10
Made one excellent tackle on Marcelo when the game was still 0-0. After that it was all attack, crossing well from the right for the third and sixth goals. 8
Called upon once or twice to defend, which he did very well, and spent the rest of the evening admiring the quality of his team’s forward play. 7
His only disappointment, having come off at half-time for Per Mertesacker, is that he could not add to his goal tally for the tournament. 7
Not quite as incisive as Lahm on the opposite side, but was still impressive, never once beaten defensively and providing a useful option out wide. 7
Operating in the oceans of space in front of Brazil’s centre-backs, he played the through pass for the second goal and scored the third and fourth. 10
Can barely have expected such a comfortable evening, winning the ball and moving it forward for his team-mates to do the damage. 8
Showed he is one of the best big-game players in the world, with that brilliant nose for goal to score the first. Wonderful movement from then on. 10
The man whose expert shuttling and well-timed runs destroyed Brazil’s collapsing system. Made the fourth, scored the fifth and could have had more. 10
Had more than enough space in wide areas to enjoy himself, always moving intelligently and involved in creating two of the first-half goals. 8
On the night Germany humiliated Brazil, Klose broke Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record, beating Julio Cesar for the second goal. 8
The second goal came from Kroos’s sharp through ball to Müller, which was then worked to Klose. The third was scored by Kroos, bizarrely unmarked on the edge of the box. The fourth was Kroos again, robbing Fernandinho, playing a one-two with Khedira and finishing. Khedira scored the fifth, after breaking through yet again and exchanging passes with Mesut Özil.
It was an astonishing contribution from the two midfielders who can now aim, very realistically, to be world champions on Sunday night. Löw has found a system to bring the best out of them and it should triumph one final time.
In Germany’s first four games, Löw played a 4-3-3 with Lahm at the base of midfield. He is an excellent player but it did not always allow for enough protection and a ropy back four was nearly cut apart, first by Ghana and then by Algeria.
For France in the quarter-finals, though, in the heat of the Maracana, Löw moved Lahm back to right-back, sitting Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of the back four and pairing Kroos and Khedira just ahead of him. It worked perfectly. Germany were too strong and too sharp, moving play forward incisively. The much-vaunted France midfield could barely get the ball from them. The only goal came when Mats Hummels headed in Kroos’s free-kick.
A similar plan worked even better in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday night, in what must have been the high-point in each of the two players’ careers so far. They have both won titles and the Champions League before but nothing that will compare to this week, and Sunday’s World Cup final in the Maracana, an evening that has been long in the preparation.
Khedira is 27 and Kroos just 24 but they have been working and developing together for some time. Khedira was captain of the German team that won the 2009 Under-21 Championship, famously along with Hummels, Özil, Manuel Neuer and the rest. Kroos, then a teenager starting to impress on loan at Bayer Leverkusen, was surprisingly left out.
“It started off in 2009 when we won the Under-21 tournament and beat England 4-0 in the final,” Per Mertesacker said in the aftermath of Tuesday’s famous win. “That was a real turning point and five or six players from that team are doing well here.”
Both Kroos and Khedira went to the World Cup in South Africa four years ago. Khedira started every game while Kroos came on as a 20-year-old substitute in the quarter-final and semi-final against Argentina and Spain, as Germany’s youngsters developed the tournament nous that has proved so valuable in Brazil. It is hard to think of a better “pathway”, to use English football’s new favourite word.
That was the summer that Khedira moved from Stuttgart to Real Madrid, while Kroos started to impose himself on Bayern Munich’s first team. They continued to grow and to win trophies but Kroos has not been able to agree a new deal at Bayern, who are ready to sell him rather than see him leave on a free. Manchester United are no longer interested, leaving Khedira’s Real as his likeliest destination. It might be difficult for Carlo Ancelotti to play the two together, but there can be no doubt what a devastating combination they are.