This was the expression of relief that resonated throughout Brazil (and all fans of its national team abroad) once the Seleção confirmed their 1-0 win in Berlin over the German national team that less than four years ago handed them the Mineiraço. That famous 7-1 was still readily brought up by the European hosts upon the visit of the South Americans to their capital.
Even though Germany have undergone significant changes from the side that beat Brazil so shockingly back in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup, the new generation of Die Mannschaft are still one of the best around. Their young core is also already experienced in winning titles at club and international levels, with several members of Bayern Munich over the last few years helping Germany win the Confederations Cup last year on an unbeaten five-game run. Germany were in fact unbeaten since July 7th, 2016, when they lost 2-0 to France in the semifinals of Euro 2016.
Tuesday’s match at Olympiastadion began with both sides studying each other and neither being able to retain much possession. Germany, who included Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rüdiger, were finding it especially quite difficult to beat Brazil’s heavy pressing.
This is something that should be highlighted as Tite, despite being known as a rather conservative coach by Brazilian standards, is truly one of the few in the country who are able organize a team to play in a “modern” way. Known in Brazil for setting up the Corinthians side that went won to win their first Copa Libertadores title and their second (yep — it’s a confusing story) Club World Championship over our very own Chelsea, he showed with the Seleção that he can also set up a good, proactive side if he has the quality available on his hands.
Some of that quality was missing in this game, with Neymar absent due to the foot injury he picked up at the end of last month. His function in the Brazilian national team (and everywhere else) is similar to Eden Hazard’s at Chelsea: an exhaust pipe to relieve pressure and break down the opposition with his dribbling.
His absence was expected to be compensated for by Willian, who had been a marvellous player in almost every opportunity he has gotten to play with the Brazilian national team. But even if he is a very good player and currently on great form, he is not as brilliant as his world-class and now injured counter-part. Still, Willian and Philippe Coutinho, who played on the opposite left flank in Brazil’s 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 set-up for tonight, did what they could to make up for Neymar.
Neither were as effective, but unlike previous versions of Brazil, the “Neymardependência” (literally “Neymar-dependence”) has been largely diminished by the team’s collective work. With players working in great sync between each other in all phases of the game, the Seleção eventually found their way to not only dominate Germany in their own home but also get the only goal of the day.
A simple interchange in the 37th minute between Willian and Daniel Alves left German markers in the dust and Willian in loads of space to work a nifty cross into the box. There it was met by Gabriel Jesus’ headed attempt that, although not as powerful as other classic no.9s from previous generations managed, was enough to force the ball past Kevin Trapp, who didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.
With the one-goal advantage, Brazil’s momentum continued to grow. Their pressing game continued to be sharp, as Germany’s backline and midfield continued to have trouble playing from the back. And out of these recoveries up the pitch, along with the occasions in which Brazil managed to show how much they have changed from the years of Felipão’s tutelage by taking short passages to transition from defence to attack instead of going only for punts from the back, the visitors kept their dominance.
This only changed once Germany started to make substitutions while Tite, who was clearly seeing this game as a chance to build Brazil’s confidence rather than test out new players and schemes, kept most of his tired underlings on the pitch. Germany stepped up their lines and their game on a change from the 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, but few were the situations in which they put goalkeeper Alisson to work on anything other than claiming crosses. Those which were also dealt with magnificently by the centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda.
And 3 minutes past the 90-minute mark, the pent-up tension was released once the final whistle blew.
Venue: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
BRAZIL: Gabriel Jesus, minute 37
GERMANY: Trapp; Kimmich, Rüdiger, Boateng (Süle), Plattenhardt; Gündogan (Werner), Kroos, Goretzka (Brandt); Draxler, Mario Gomez (Wagner), Sané (Stindl).
Coach: Joachim Löw.
BRAZIL: Alisson; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro; Willian, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Coutinho (Douglas Costa); Gabriel Jesus.