Ahead of the first World Cup semifinal, everyone predicted a close match. Everyone was wrong. Brazil's mauling by Germany revealed problems galore on and off the pitch.
A historic tactical blunder
One question ahead of Brazil-Germany was whether the hosts, who were missing injured superstar Neymar, would attack, or sit back and try to counter-attack. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari opted for the former and he could hardly have gotten his tactics more wrong. If tactics is even the right term to describe the shambles that was the Selecao.
Brazil, who had vowed to win the World Cup for Neymar, came out full of fire, dominating possession for the first ten minutes. But their play at the back was suicidal. The flood of goals commenced after a Germany corner when no one bothered to mark Thomas Müller - AKA the guy who won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup.
And with the Selecao playing an insanely high line of defense, Germany were constantly able to get numbers advantages, slicing apart Brazil's "defense" to the tune of four goals in six minutes. It was the sort of defensive disorganization rarely seen outside schoolyards, and the result was the worst defeat in Brazilian national history and in the history of World Cup semifinals.
The idea of players busting a gut for "forca Neymar" was romantic. But Brazil would have been far better served playing a defensive formation and trying to nick a late victory.
A mediocre squad
Brazil hadn't really impressed in the earlier rounds of the tournament, and the reason why is obvious. They weren't a particularly good team.
The free-wheeling brilliance of Neymar couldn't conceal the weaknesses in this edition of the Selecao. Brazil had no defensive midfielder to pair with Luis Gustavo. Hulk and Oscar were active but ineffective, while Fred was so bad you were embarrassed for him every time he touched the ball.
With holes this large in the starting 11, it's hardly surprising that Scolari couldn't replace Neymar. Neither Bernard nor Willian were up to the job, and without a legitimate midfield threat, Brazil were unable to keep Germany honest.
Authors of their own undoing
This Brazil squad had drawn praise for bullying their way to physical victories rather than playing the jogo bonito. Winning ugly, many felt, would be Brazil's path toward a sixth World Cup title.
Nowhere was this decidedly un-Brazilian approach more evident than in the Selecao's quarterfinal win over Colombia, in which they doled out continual punishment to the Cafeteros' stand-out player James Rodriguez. It was hard to believe that the Colombian forward managed to hold his nerve while getting constantly trampled.
It was a poorly officiated, at times brutal match, and Brazil's rough-'em-up approached backfired when Juan Zuniga broke a vertebra in Neymar's back with his knee. It would be going too far to say the injury was poetic justice, but Brazil set the tone in a match that would sow the seeds of their own downfall.