Ice-cool Loew plots final flourish
Under scrutiny despite having best record in 30 years, Germany coach takes to the seaside to relax
GERMANY v ARGENTINA
(Monday, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)
The most enduring image of Joachim Loew at this World Cup for many Germans will be of an intense-looking man wearing a bathing suit, T-shirt, sun glasses and ear plugs while strolling barefoot alone on the beach.
The widely published picture of the lonely-looking Germany coach is an apt metaphor for Loew in Brazil, with his focus on delivering the only prize that success-spoiled and trophy-starved Germany will tolerate from him: Win it all or go away.
With the pressure of knowing that anything less than returning home with a fourth World Cup would be a failure, Loew has set out on a methodical, meticulous course to deliver his "golden generation" of Germany players to the promised trophy.
Everything he has done since a humiliating semi-final defeat by Italy two years ago in Euro 2012 and a disconcerting semi-final loss to Spain in the World Cup two years before that, has been designed with Monday morning's World Cup final in mind.
"Pressure from Germany to win the World Cup? What pressure are you talking about?" Loew said with a flash of irony in a German TV interview ahead of the tournament, before bursting out in a hearty laugh with ex-captain-turned-TV pundit Oliver Kahn when asked about the building pressure.
Indeed Loew, 54, and the German football association have done a lot to shield the players from pressure and distractions of the tournament - everything has been subjugated to winning, even more so than at any time in his eight years as head coach.
Loew, his coaching staff and many players don't read newspapers or pay attention to the media back home.
They stay ensconced in their fortress-like compound at an isolated resort on the Atlantic Ocean in north-eastern Brazil, except for matches.
The players and coaches all have new handphone numbers that effectively cut off contact with the outside world and the media, which caused some grumbling among the beat reporters.
"I haven't read a newspaper since we got here," Loew said after Germany squeaked past Algeria 2-1 (extra time) in the last-16 match, too narrow a victory for some that triggered a wave of criticism that Loew was either too stubborn to adjust or not the right coach for the talent-laden team.
"We are focused on how we can win, not how we can avoid losing."
It's probably a good thing that he didn't read the papers, because even Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and 93 per cent of Germans in one poll wanted him to move captain Philipp Lahm from midfield to right back.
Loew made the shift for the quarter-final against France, but insisted it was not due to public opinion but part of his strategy.
The normally polite Loew did show a flash of anger after he was accused of being satisfied with the shaky performance against Algeria.
"Should I really be disappointed that we made it to the quarter-finals," he growled.
"Should I be deeply disappointed?"
It is a strange world in Germany at times.
He is the most successful Germany coach in the last 30 years with 76 wins and just 15 defeats in 111 matches - or an average of 2.25 points per match - ahead of Berti Vogts (2.18), Juergen Klinsmann (2.00) and Franz Beckenbauer (1.85). But that is not enough.
Loew, who lost his driver's licence just before the World Cup for too many speeding tickets, has come under considerable fire especially in the last two years despite a nearly unbeaten record in that period.
Germany played well at Euro 2012 and Loew looked like a genius for his wholesale changes before each match.
But, when Germany lost to Italy in the semi-finals, Loew took the blame for making too many changes. He has been in the firing line since.
With all the criticism, it's small wonder that he has largely avoided the German media at the team's base.
In the last month, he appeared at the press conference just twice - although he has been to 12 obligatory Fifa press conferences before and after matches.
But his players speak highly of Loew and try to tune out of the media as well.
"He's always stuck to a clear, straight-forward line," said Lahm. "That's really important for the players. He's always talking about the key issues and stays calm and focused all the time.
"But if you've ever seen him walking along the beach, that's where he lets off the steam." - Reuters.
KHEDIRA V MESSI
Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes, who helped subdue Cristiano Ronaldo in the 4-0 group-stage win over Portugal, said it was important to swarm Lionel Messi and avoid one-on-one situations. Defensive midfielder Sami Khedira will play a key role for this.
HUMMELS V HIGUAIN
Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain pulls defenders out of position to open space for Messi to thread through-balls to Ezequiel Lavezzi or run at the defence.
Germany centre back Mats Hummels will make sure Higuain doesn't get any space.
MUELLER V ROJO
Apart from his speed and clinical finishing, Thomas Mueller's secret is his instinctive understanding of space and the forward is invariably in the right place at the right time.
Argentina left back Marcos Rojo is expected to keep a close eye on the German.
KROOS V MASCHERANO
Toni Kroos is one of Germany's most creative players, a ruthless finisher and a physically imposing presence.
The Real Madrid-bound midfielder is set to have a tight tussle with Barcelona's Javier Mascherano. - Reuters.