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World Cup: No schadenfreude in Deutschland

Germany may have dealt Brazil its worst World Cup defeat ever. But it’s probably the Germans who are most willing to show the Brazilians the most compassion today.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts when asked about the performance of Germany's national soccer team in yesterday's World Cup 2014 semi-final match against Brazil.

“Incredible,” headlined the French sports daily L’Equipe.

“Historic German slaughter of Brazil,” wrote Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. 

The Heute tabloid in Austria: “Historic! Germany humble Brazil 7:1.” 

If this were foreign policy – the press responding to a German military intervention or a victory in the halls of Brussels – Germans would be squirming from the praise and attention lavished on it from across Europe. But it’s soccer, so they know how to revel  – to a point.

The German team’s historic 7-1 rout of the Brazilians in the World Cup semi-finals last night was nothing short of stunning, with five goals scored within the first 30 minutes of the game, four of them in a six-minute span. The photo of German model Heidi Klum, donning a black t-shirt that read Deutschland, her hand covering her eyes in disbelief in front of a television set airing the game, sums up the incredulity in living rooms, bars, and city plazas across the world. It’s been called the most surprising game in World Cup history.

Germany, is of course, rejoicing. “Without Words,” wrote Germany’s daily Bild.  The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, piped in with “Seven One – is that really true?”

But typical of Germans, who are the first to call themselves modest and restrained, there is also some discomfort.

Haunted by the crimes of World War II, German leaders have continuously shied away from hegemony in any form. They’ve angered allies when they back out of military intervention. They say it is only with hesitance that they’ve taken the lead role, as the sole economic powerhouse of the European Union, in the bloc’s debt crisis.

As one woman at a pub in Berlin told The New York Times: “We don’t want to overdo it.”

Yet overdo it they did, leading Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to declare after the match, “that it was the worst day of my life.”

The game goes down as Brazil’s biggest defeat in World Cup finals history. Now Germany claims the title of highest scoring team in any World Cup, reaching 223 goals last night. When German striker Miroslav Klose scored in the 23rd minute, he also became the competition’s record individual scorer – surpassing Brazilian player Ronaldo. And all of this on Brazil’s home turf. Fans broke into tears.

A German friend in Cologne described the mood on the other side of the Atlantic last night, among friends watching the game. She said there was celebration, of course, but no small dose of uneasiness. “Instead of celebrating success we, especially women, were embarrassed about how badly Brazil lost. I felt sorry for them more than I was proud of the good football the German team played,” she says. “I think it is right that Germans are modest and restrained.”

The German “slaughter” of Brazil brought with it the predictable bad (and often tasteless) jokes across social media, with caricatures of Hitler and references to World War II. English comedian Ricky Gervais’ Facebook comment, in reference to the Nazis who sought refuge in Brazil, went viral: "This won't be the first time that thousands of Germans will have to lie low in Brazil for a while for their own safety.”

But when it comes to soccer, Brazil is the global hegemon, and many soccer fans across the world today are reveling in their defeat. In fact, it’s probably the Germans who are most willing to show the Brazilians the most compassion today.

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