8th July 2014, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The semi-final of the 2014 World Cup, between tournament hosts and favourites Brazil, and the always-dangerous Germany.
Joachim Low was in danger of falling short as Die Mannschaft manager, having taken over from Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006. As favourites for Euro 2008, his side fell short, losing to Spain in the final. At the 2010 World Cup, Spain had once again conquered the Germans, before exiting at the semi-finals to Italy at Euro 2012.
This was perhaps their toughest test; a semi-final against Brazil, in Brazil.
The hosts, however, were dealing with the absence of Thiago Silva through suspension, and tournament poster boy Neymar, who was ruled out of the tournament thanks to an injury sustained in the quarter-finals.
The pre-match national anthems and pre-match team photo were eyebrow-raisingly accompanied by Neymar’s shirt, perhaps an early sign of the fragility of the Selecao, having lost their talisman.
The first 30 minutes were perhaps more shocking than the final score.
It’s easy to look back and think that Brazil were always up against it when you consider the result, but the hosts were – even without Neymar and Silva – marginal favourites to reach the final. Germany, for all their talent, required extra time to get past Algeria, and left plenty to be desired in their 2-2 draw with Ghana in the group stage.
But 10 minutes in, with defending that would leave Sunday league managers red-faced, Thomas Muller volleyed home from a corner, gifted acres of space by David Luiz.
Then the floodgates opened.
23 minutes, 24 minutes, 26 minutes, 29 minutes.
A missed interception from Fernandinho allowed Toni Kroos to find Muller, who laid off to Miroslav Klose, who, with the second bite of the cherry, slotted past Julio Cesar.
And moments later, Muller’s miskick fell in the path of Kroos, who hammered a third past Cesar.
While the first goal didn’t affect the mood in the crowd too much, the second certainly did. Fans were spotted in tears, and after the third, the mood had gone from desperation to dumbfounded. Little over 20 minutes played and the game was as good as over.
And it would only get worse. Much worse.
Fernandinho erred again, with a loose touch being swept up by Kroos who exchanged a one-two with Sami Khedira around Dante, tapping into an open goal. Defensive mistakes were a running theme throughout the first half, but this one resembled a goal scored moments before the losing side, hands on hips, looked at each other and declared ‘next goal winner’.
We’ve all played that game of 5-a-side when all you did was chase shadows as your opponents score goal after goal at seeming walking pace. That’s what this was, but in a World Cup semi-final, in front of a home crowd, with nowhere to hide.
In the space of exactly three minutes, Germany had scored three more goals. Account for the nearly two minutes of celebrations, and the ball had been in play for a handful of seconds for the three goals.
And the fifth – yes, fifth, all inside 30 minutes – was almost a carbon copy of the fourth, this time Khedira and Mesut Ozil exchanging a one-two, with Khedira slotting home.
5-0 after 29 minutes. Unheard of in nearly any game of professional football let alone a World Cup semi-final in front of your home fans. In the blink of an eye, the game had turned into a ‘where were you when…’ moment of sporting history, and there was still a whole hour to play.
While it’s a game everyone will forever remember where they were, the strongest memories are perhaps of those who left the room at 1-0, to make a drink or nip to the toilet, to return little over five minutes later to see the score had taken a quantum leap from 1-0 to 5-0.
God only knows what went on in the Brazilian dressing room at half time, but to their credit, they didn’t roll over.
Manuel Neuer was quickly called into action twice, with an outstanding double save moments later.
But they couldn’t find the breakthrough, and Andre Schurrle was on hand to make it six after 69 minutes, with the German players hardly celebrating.
Ten minutes later, Schurrle would make it seven with a sumptuous half volley off the underside of the bar, and in the dying moments, Ozil really should’ve made it eight when clean through on goal.
As it happened, Brazil did manage the scantest of consolation goals through Oscar
But Germany progressed to the final – that they’d win – while Brazil were left to reflect on a defeat that they would never live down.