SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Maybe Brazil wasn't that good to begin with. Or maybe Germany really is that much better.
Or, perhaps, the pressure on a young, inexperienced Brazilian team was simply too much to bear.
There were almost as many explanations for Brazil's historic collapse in Tuesday's World Cup semifinal as there were goals -- and there were a lot of those, with Germany winning 7-1 in Belo Horizonte in the most lopsided semifinal in tournament history.
When the whistle finally sounded, stopping a game that had effectively ended an hour earlier, Brazilian captain David Luiz burst into tears. Others cried as well while one player dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands.
And Brazilian Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari? Well, he did the only thing he could do: He fell on his sword.
"It's the worst moment of my football career," said Scolari, who coached Brazil to its last World Cup title in 2002. "Who is responsible for this result? I am, it's me. The blame for this catastrophic result can be shared between us all, but the person who decided the lineup, the tactics, was me.
"We tried to do what we could, we did our best -- but we came up against a great German team. We got disorganized and panicked after the first goal and then it all went wrong for us. Not even the Germans can tell you how this happened."
This was to be Brazil's World Cup -- had to be Brazil's World Cup. And maybe that is what caused the team's undoing.
It had been 64 years since Brazil staged a World Cup at home. And in a country so passionate about the sport it is worshipped like a religion, even now that 1950 final loss to Uruguay is remembered as a national tragedy.
This year's team, though, was expected to erase that strain. And when the Brazilian government lavished a record $11.5 billion on the preparations for this World Cup, the pressure on the national team increased.
A World Cup title was seen as the only way to justify the cost. So hundreds of fans began gathering daily outside the gates of the team's training facility while hundreds more lined the roads when the team's bus would pass.
All of them were seeking deliverance as much as they were a championship.
Ultimately it proved to be too much. During the team's penalty-kick win over Chile to reach the quarterfinals, several Brazilian players burst into tears. Twice in the last week Scolari called on a psychologist to counsel the team, some of whose members appeared on the verge of a breakdown.
Then came the injury to Neymar, the team's talisman, who suffered a fractured vertebra in the quarterfinals, and the yellow-card suspension of captain Thiago Silva, the team's best defender.
Germany, unbeaten in this World Cup and the top-ranked team still standing, had sailed into a perfect storm. And it didn't take much to capsize Brazil.
Thomas Mueller got the rout started in the 11th minute, scoring his fifth goal of this World Cup off Toni Kroos' bending corner kick. Mueller slipped his defender easily, then volleyed the cross out of the air and by Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar.
The parting of the Brazilian defense would prove to be a common theme -- and things would soon get worse for the home team.
Two goals by Kroos and one each from Miroslav Klose and Sami Khedira in a six-minute span made it 5-0 Germany before the half-hour mark. The goal by Klose, who scored off his own rebound, was his 16th in World Cup play, breaking the record he had shared with Brazilian legend Ronaldo.
By the time Kroos scored the second of his goals, Brazil was down 4-0 in a World Cup game for the first time in its history. And when Khedira made it 5-0 in the 29th minute, the Germans, sensing this was now less a game then it was a massacre, stopped celebrating their goals.
In the stands Brazilian fans wept openly. By the halftime whistle many were heading out into a cool, dark night that would only get cooler and darker in the second half when Andre Schurrle, a second-half substitute, scored twice to make it 7-0 -- the most goals ever scored in a World Cup semifinal.
Oscar's goal in the 90th minute got Brazil on the board, but by then few were still paying attention. It had been an implosion of epic proportions, one that marked Brazil's first loss in a competitive game at home in 39 years -- though this game was anything but competitive.
Germany now goes on to the final, its second in four World Cups, where it will meet the winner of Wednesday's other semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands. Brazil, meanwhile, has three days to regroup before playing the loser of that contest in what amounts to a consolation game.
But consolation will be hard to find in Brazil now.
"My message for the Brazilian people is this: Please excuse us for this performance," Scolari said. "I'm sorry that we weren't able to get to the final and we're going to try to win the third-place match.
"We still have something to play for."
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