Wednesday, 1 October 2014

No rain on Löw's parade, Jul 2014

During the 2014 World Cup, Germany’s national team learned relatively quickly that rain is quite an event in Brazil. Almost every day at Campo Bahia brought a short, sharp downpour that disappeared as quickly as it had come, only to be replaced with the same clear blue skies from which it had suddenly materialised. It was a similar story in Recife ahead of Die Mannschaft’s final group match against the USA, with one crucial difference: the rain refused to go away this time. There were doubts as to whether the match could go ahead, while the skies over Brazil wept with such persistence and intensity that it seemed they had foreseen the defeat this Germany side would ultimately inflict on A Seleção in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

At the German national side’s hotel, the rain presented all manner of logistical challenges on the morning of their match against Jürgen Klinsmann’s team. Recife had received more than a year’s average rainfall in the past 12 hours and the telephones were abuzz with anxious questions. Is the pitch playable? What are FIFA saying? How do we get to the stadium? When do we need to leave? How are the fans getting here? Are the streets passable? Is Mike Horn [the explorer and adventurer who gave the Germany squad a motivational talk before the tournament began] still available?

Outside, the streets had been transformed into rivers and it seemed as if the best way of reaching the Arena Pernambuco would be by boat. Die Nationalelf drove along the Atlantic coast to Recife, and in many places the only indicators of where the ocean ended and the city began were signs forbidding swimming and warning of sharks. Although the record will show that 26 June was an extraordinary day in Recife, events on the football pitch unfolded as planned. Both teams made it to the stadium on time and so did most of the spectators, contrary to some previous reports. Most importantly, the pitch drained remarkably well. The turf was wet, slow and difficult, but it was playable, and somehow Germany’s third game of the 2014 World Cup played out under normal conditions.

The build-up to the game was dominated by inappropriate comparisons with the past. Memories of the controversial match between Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup resurfaced as the spirit of Gijon threatened to haunt proceedings in Recife. Back then, events unfolded in such a way that a 1-0 win for Germany in the final group game would keep both them and their Austrian opponents in the tournament – and that is exactly what happened. Germany won the game in Gijon by a single goal to ensure the progression of both sides at the expense of Algeria.

Thirty-two years later, Germany and the USA were faced with a similar situation ahead of their match at the 2014 World Cup, with a draw enough to see both teams through to the Round of 16 regardless of how the parallel game between Ghana and Portugal finished. Suddenly Gijon was on everyone’s lips to such an extent that Hansi Flick felt it necessary to re-state the obvious once more. “Of course there won’t be any arrangements,” Löw’s assistant coach emphasised. “There’s no way we’ll be playing for a draw.”

As a result, Germany neither played for a draw amid the rain of Recife nor ended up with one, thanks to the belief shown by all the players and an outstanding moment from one player in particular: Thomas Müller. It all began when Die Mannschaft won a corner in the 55th minute: Mesut Özil played a short ball to Toni Kroos, who rolled it straight back to his team-mate for the cross. The ball curved into the penalty area towards Per Mertesacker, who headed the ball towards the far corner, but USA goalkeeper Tim Howard was quick to get down and clear the shot.

But this was not the end of the story. Howard’s steered the ball into the path of Müller, who wasted no time in stroking the ball past assorted legs and arms into the right-hand corner. It was the goal of an artist and a sight so astonishing to behold that it even amazed the man who created it. “For once I scored a beautiful goal,” said Müller before adding, in his inimitable style: “I realised I was unmarked, so I concentrated on the far corner and it worked.” When asked why this worked so well, the Bayern stalwart replied: “Because all I do every day is train like a lunatic.” Müller’s strike proved to be the only goal of the game, securing Germany the three points and first place in Group G, but there were two victorious teams on the pitch that evening. Despite ending their campaign on a high note by beating Ghana, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team-mates did not win by a sufficiently high margin, meaning that the USA’s four points and superior goal difference was enough to qualify them for the last 16 behind Die Mannschaft on seven points. Despite the tremendous amount of precipitation, neither team left Recife under a cloud of despondency that day.

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