Friday, 5 September 2014

Joachim Löw and the Seven Goals of Belo Horizonte, 29.07.2014

Germany travelled to the World Cup hoping to play seven games. Their journey began in Salvador with a dream and ended in Rio with football’s most coveted trophy. takes another look back at Die Mannschaft’s magnificent seven and recounts this summer’s stories both on and off the pitch. Today, we tell the story of national team coach Joachim Löw and the seven goals of Belo Horizonte.

Football is a game full of numbers. Every week, fans talk about the 90-minute matches, 45-minute halves, 18-yard box, six-yard box and, most importantly of all, the three points their team sets out to win. Although all manner of figures have direct footballing connotations, seven is not one of them. Instead the number seven might bring to mind ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the Seven Wonders of the World or ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Then there are the seven deadly sins and Morgan Freeman’s film Seven on the same topic. Despite all these connections, football generally has only a loose association with the number seven. Perhaps this is due to its unique arithmetic status, as seven is the only natural number between one and 10 which cannot be multiplied or divided with other numbers in its group.

Whatever the case, football’s link with the number seven changed forever on 8 July 2014. Since that day, this figure has been inextricably linked with Belo Horizonte, the German national team and the World Cup in Brazil. Seven refers to the number of times A Seleção had to endure another pang of sporting agony, or to put a more positive, German-focused spin on it, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ will in future remind Die Mannschaft’s fans of the seven goals that etched Germany’s name in World Cup semi-final history.

It was a revolutionary 90 minutes in Belo Horizonte and a match that, for Brazilian football at least, marked a key turning point. Despite all that was written, said and analysed after the game, nobody could quite comprehend the inconceivable event they had witnessed. One German newspaper captured the magnitude of the occurrence succinctly, suggesting the game was German football’s ‘moon-landing moment’ by asking: “Where were you when Germany defeated Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final?” Many would also be able to confirm where national team coach Joachim Löw was: inside that stadium in Belo Horizonte, on, beside and in front of the coaches’ bench.

Here are Germany’s seven goals from the national coach’s perspective:

First, Germany win a corner in the 11th minute. As Toni Kroos runs up to take it, Joachim Löw rises from his seat. In Belo Horizonte the substitutes’ benches are sunk into the ground, so the former Stuttgart boss has to climb three steps to leave behind his mole’s-eye view of proceedings and watch play unfold at the players’ eye-level. When Kroos strikes the ball, the national coach’s eyes are wide open, his lips pressed lightly together, his hands buried in his pockets. As the ball swings into the penalty area, Löw takes two small steps forward. Meanwhile, Thomas Müller frees himself from two defenders and takes two small steps backwards. Then, as the ball flies into the net, the boss’s left arm flies upwards accompanied by a primal scream – and perhaps the first suspicion that everything could go to plan. As Löw celebrates that first goal, he punches the air with his fist seven times (we counted). Moments later, he clenches the fist of his left hand, leaving just his thumb up as if to say “I liked that.” The 54-year-old concludes his reaction to that initial strike with a ritual he would repeat many more times on this fateful evening – by taking a sip from his water bottle.

In the 23rd minute, Miroslav Klose makes it 2-0. It’s a beautiful goal, an important goal and a historic goal. Klose scores at a World Cup tournament for the 16th time, making him the highest-scoring player in the competition’s history – and his coach misses it. Löw is deep in conversation with Hansi Flick during the build-up to the goal. The coach talks and talks, then stops. By the time Kroos passes to Müller, Die Mannschaft’s coach is stood in his technical area, ready to celebrate. Müller lays the ball off to Klose, who shoots. As Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar parries his shot clear, Löw turns away, missing the fact that the ball rebounded straight to the Lazio striker, who finds the net on his second attempt. Hansi Flick is more alert, keeping his eyes on the match and watching the goal go in. In his joy, Flick bangs into his boss, but luckily the collision is neither hard nor painful. At that moment the head coach realises what has happened, but having missed the goal his celebrations are more subdued this time. He simply does a low five with team doctor Tim Meyer before high-fiving with Roman Weidenfeller and Lukas Podolski. Then he heads back to his seat, takes another sip of water and sits down again.

Löw is watching intently by the time the third goal goes in just two minutes later. Philipp Lahm passes the ball inside towards Thomas Müller, who is unmarked in the centre. Löw stands up, waiting for Müller to score his second, but instead the Bayern forward boldly lets the ball run through his legs. The coach’s mouth twitches briefly, but this time he keeps watching in anticipation and sees the ball run into the path of Kroos. The Real Madrid midfielder strikes it hard with his left foot, and although Cesar gets a hand to the strike, he cannot keep it out of the net. The resulting scenes on Germany’s bench are similar to those that greeted the first two goals. The coach cheers, this time with both arms raised aloft, high-fives Weidenfeller and Podolski once more and takes a third gulp from his water bottle in what is fast becoming a routine.

When the score reaches 4-0, Löw stops rejoicing. As Toni Kroos wins possession in midfield in the 26th minute and sidefoots the ball home after a one-two with Sami Khedira, the boss paces his technical area hesitantly. Euphoria erupts all around him as players spring from the world’s most excitable bench and run past him on either side to join their team-mates in a huge huddle. Löw is delighted, but doesn’t show it. He even forgets to sip from his water bottle this time around; after all, there is nothing routine about taking a 4-0 lead against Brazil. Amid the chaos, he does not forget to coach his team. “Bastian,” he calls, and Schweinsteiger jogs over for a brief discussion at the edge of the pitch. Löw directs a few words towards his emotional leader, and his gestures reflect what he says: “Stay calm, don’t overdo it, don’t get complacent.” Then he returns to his seat once again. Flick knows the score and pats his boss four times on the shoulder in congratulation.

It is now the 29th minute, and another one-two leads to yet another goal. This time it is Özil setting up Khedira, but the end result remains the same: a goal for Germany. 5-0. Madness reigns. On the bench, Löw puts a new spin on his reserved celebrations, suddenly raising both arms above his head in parallel, before clenching his left hand into a fist once more. With that, Löw is back into his groove and remembers to repeat the water bottle ritual again. One sip, and then back in his seat – ready for the next celebration. Eventually, half-time arrives.

At the start of the second half, Brazil push desperately forward and create chances, but all are blocked by eventual Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer. It is the 69th minute before we can return to observing Löw’s reactions as Philipp Lahm sets up substitute André Schürrle to complete Germany’s half-dozen. For the first time, a smile plays over the face of the national coach. For the sixth time, Löw climbs the steps to the technical area, makes a half turn and then emits a long “Jaaaaaaa!” before high-fiving with Flick. The former Freiburg midfielder now looks a little bemused and puts up absolutely no resistance as Andi Köpke embraces him. It appears as though he is struggling to process what he is seeing.

By the 79th minute, the mood within the stadium has picked up and the Brazilians have already been cheering Germany’s beautiful football for some time. A Seleção have been taken apart, leaving Die Mannschaft to enjoy the occasion. The ball comes to Schürrle via Müller at half-height, making it difficult to control, but the Chelsea man powers into the penalty area and shoots from a tight angle. The ball sails over Cesar’s head and into the near corner. This time, Löw does not get to his feet but can no longer contain his emotions. He laughs – relaxed, relieved, but above all in disbelief – before finally standing up to celebrate briefly with Andi Köpke. He whispers something in his goalkeeping coach’s ear, and Köpke points at the scoreboard in response, as if to say: “It’s up there, it’s true, it’s all real: Germany 7, Brazil 0.” This was not just any scoreline, it was a great achievement for a great team, and with that, our observations of Löw’s experience on the touchline come to an end.

The German national team reached new heights in Belo Horizonte that evening. Rarely have superlatives been as appropriate as they were after the game. When Joachim Löw is asked to name his favourite memories from the World Cup in Brazil, he cites his team’s journey back to their base after the semi-final. He speaks about how Brazilians stayed out on the street celebrating with German fans, respect in their eyes, acknowledging the performance of their opponents more than the disappointment of their own team’s display. This acknowledgement was evident long before the final whistle of a game that included four goals in six minutes, that momentous 7-1 final score – and a yellow wall of supporters who rose to celebrate beautiful football. Nobody who was there will ever forget those images, not least Löw himself.

The last part of the return journey from Porto Seguro to Campo Bahia was just as memorable. “The hours after the Brazil match were a high point in my career,” Germany’s coach later said. “Thousands of Brazilians stood on the street and greeted my team with applause. It was spellbinding.” They may have broken Brazilian hearts but it appears Die Nationalelf also managed to play their way into them.

29 July 2014
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