Christiano Ronaldo after losing to Germany at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
We've reached the stage, in this recap-every-stage-of-the-World-Cup adventure, when I no longer feel the obligation to explain the meaning of each match. I warned Sunday of the so-called bore draws between uncreative countries, the kind of 0-0 game that used to dominate the first round before the 21st century superhuman strikers came on the scene.
Well, we had our first bore draw of the 2014 World Cup Monday, thanks to Nigeria and Iran, playing it safe and playing it scared, forgetting that they were here to listen to their better footballing angels and entertain the planet with risky plays. The game shall live in no memory, especially when compared to the two other fixtures of the day; two of the most jaw-dropping displays of football I've seen in a while, each with a profound tale to tell.
For more about America's famous victory, and the fizzing euphoria of its fandom on the scene in Brazil, check out my colleague Sam Laird's chronicling of what the US victory over Ghana looked like from Copocabana. Here we'll focus on the other big game of the day: Germany's 4-0 demolition of Portugal.
It is a terrifying thing to see a national side torn apart like that, their defenses thoroughly dismantled, and one of their stars, Pepe, driven to self-destructive rage and sent off. Portugal was expertly flayed and dismembered, and if that sounds like a scene from Game of Thrones, that's because it's a perfectly apt metaphor. This game, to put it bluntly, was some next-level George R. R. Martin sh*t.
If the World Cup is Game of Thrones, Ronaldo was the Red Viper — whirling around, so cocksure and certain that unsurpassable skill was all it took to win a duel. Then [spoiler alert for anyone who's three episodes behind] the Mountain, in the hulking and coordinated form of Germany's back four, crushed the life out of him.
Germany are the Lannisters: I'm glad to have found a metaphor to describe a meticulous, well-to-do and terrifying team that doesn't rely on hackneyed national history. Growing up English, watching West German games of the 1980s, I would routinely hear commentators talk of a blitzkrieg on the pitch, or use phrases like Prussian military efficiency to describe the team's style.
They always had a point — Germany's style is rigid, dogmatic, skillful, not always fun to watch — but I hated to think they were using the World Cup to refight old wars. The World Cup is a fantastical place; let's draw our metaphors from a fantasy world. Every Lannister knows, as theGame of Thrones finale reminded us, that every threat has to have a follow-through, otherwise you cannot threaten in future.
Germany knew this too. Every Portuguese attack met with a German counter attack, punishment for having had the temerity to probe its penalty area. Look at the way Thomas Mueller, casually knocks in Germany's third, and his second, with Jaime Lannister-style swagger:
Yes, of course I did that, says Mueller's expression after the goal. It's what I do. From the stands, German Chancellor Angela Merkel applauded like Tywin Lannister at a rather amusing tournament. Self-pressure, self-doubt — these are concepts unknown to this team. It's almost no wonder Pepe lost his head at them, much as many Lannister opponents are done in by their fury.
Here's the really scary thing: like the Lannisters in Westeros, a German team on form like this one is basically unchallenged and unchallengeable. They never seemed to tire. They were never seriously troubled by mighty Portugal, not once. Not even Brazil, which made some serious blunders in the opening game against Croatia, is playing at this level.
(Or at least they weren't — the most exciting matchup of Tuesday, Brazil vs Mexico, should give us more of a sense of whether that performance was just opening-game jitters, or a sign of too much pressure put on the home side, or something more fundamental.)
So if Germany keeps playing like this, why is the World Cup not a foregone conclusion? Why keep watching, if the team will simply devour Ghana and the US and every other opponent in their turn?
Because fortunes turn on a dime. That much we learned from both Game of Thrones and the US-Ghana game. The USAMT, beaten back for 88 minutes by superior passing and probing shots (more than 15 of them on target), a team plagued with almost medieval, Game of Thrones-style injuries, won 3 points in the end. Why? Because it showed pluck and grit and flashes of brilliance in just two minutes of the game, one at the beginning via Clint Dempsey and one at the end via super substitute John Brooks Jr.
Sometimes, that's enough. Sometimes an arrow finds the right target, and the side that should win on paper crumbles in an instant. That's why we keep watching — because even the Lannisters have their bad days. Shorn of its Ghana curse, facing a Portugal who have been picked apart and left for the crows, the USA has more hope of success than most Starks.