Germany, Brazil, and the Singular Joy of the Blowout

Die Mannschaft humiliated Seleção and gave fans everywhere a reason to cheer.

Who would have guessed that the German team, with its well-earned reputation for punishing and soporific efficiency, would be the Cup’s breakout star? The team whose M.O. is to ruthlessly parlay an early goal into 80-odd minutes of keep-away had offices, living rooms, and barrooms across the world in an absolute uproar. For two hours yesterday, you literally couldn’t keep up with the onslaught. If you were watching the live stream, freezes in the feed buried goals in static only to reveal an almost unfathomable slaughter. Not to be insensitive to Brazilian fans – a sensitive lot – but it was entertaining as hell. Blowouts are fun.

The horror in Belo Horizonte quickly became the most tweeted sporting event in history, with 35.6 million zingers clogging the web. Not coincidentally, the game it eclipsed was also a blowout: Super Bowl XLVIII saw the Seahawks breaking the Bronco and 24.9 million fans tweeting about it. This might lead a sociologist to conclude that sports fans are a heartless bunch, bandwagon death squads reveling in decimation for decimation’s sake. And there is something to be said for this theory. ESPN’s viewership in America – the semifinal hit a record 4.1 Nielsen rating – peaked at 5:45 p.m., well after the contest was over. Was it schadenfreude? To a degree, but we actually tuned in to, as the Germans say, maulaffen feilhalten.

That expression means “gape in awe,” not rubberneck. And it’s important to remember that those are two different activities.

Elite athletic contests are meant to highlight awe-inspiring skill, but they rarely do for one simple reason: Everyone is awesome. Great forwards are stifled by great sweepers in the same way great receivers are rendered irrelevant by perfect coverage. Pitting the best against the best is the only way to find a champion, but it’s a lousy way to showcase skill. The only time we get to see the contrast between the truly remarkable and the merely good is during a blowout. Germany was remarkable. Brazil was good, but not nearly good enough.

It’s easy to look at the numbers and forget that the German goals, with the exception of the first and fifth, were well struck. The German offense was patient and decisive, taking advantage of mistakes while creating opportunities all over the field. Thomas Müller, normally content to show his speed, demonstrated his foot skills, and Özil distributed with flare. The Brazilians didn’t  look stupid in a vacuum; they looked stupid in comparison to an elite squad.

The Germans are – for Americans, anyway – a decidedly hateable team. They beat our boys and disappointed Brazil’s supermodel fan base. Their coach, Joachim Löw, looks like bad guy from a poorly costumed episode of Mission Impossible, and their super-sub Andre Schuerrle (who scored twice in ten minutes) looks like Teutonic Johnny Bravo. Die Mannschaft is a football machine devoid of mercy or conscience, but no one not wearing yellow and green bemoaned the lopsided result. Soccer fans, who are used to watching games devolve into contests of will and luck, were enjoying the show. It wasn’t a good game, but it was definitely worth watching.

Photos by Markus Schreiber / AP