Neil Humphreys: Germany must rediscover killer instinct
Our man in Brazil pinpoints what Loew needs to do if he is to shake off his 'Nearly Man' tag
UNITED STATES 0
(Thomas Mueller 55)
Joachim Loew's logic was hard to argue with.
Germany would have gladly taken seven points before the World Cup began, he said at the press conference this morning after the 1-0 win over compatriot Juergen Klinsmann's United States.
But group qualification occupies the small print of the coach's job description.
With Loew eager to shake the "Nearly Man" tag that has dogged him since he succeeded Klinsmann, he knows there is still for improvement ahead of the Round of 16.
1 Bring back killer instinct
There were England and Argentina in 2010. Portugal were similarly punished here in Brazil.
Loew's Germany side have the most endearing habit of mauling meek opposition in major tournaments, but their tendency to ease off as the campaign progresses is less attractive.
Ghana were excitable, entertaining opponents, but hardly imperious.
The US offered nothing like the attacking threat they posed against Portugal, with livewire Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones perhaps preoccupied with results elsewhere.
And still, the Germans laboured in the final third; not alarmingly so, but enough to convince Loew to make changes.
Lukas Podolski was wisely withdrawn as Germany favoured their right side.
Miroslav Klose replaced him and the side's balance improved.
But, the reliance on a 36-year-old striker, even a record-equalling one, is not something Loew will be eager to repeat.
2 Crosses don't tick boxes
Loew's 4-3-3 line-up, with skipper Philipp Lahm granted the lieutenant's powers of tweaking tactics in the field, utilities Germany's surplus of creative, penetrative midfielders.
But the tendency to swing crosses towards the box was less effective.
When Klose is warming the bench, Loew lacks a Karim Benzema-type figure at the apex; a burly presence content to leap above centre backs.
Thomas Mueller brings more finesse, but less physique.
Whipping in crosses for a striker who favours a withdrawn, almost false, role proved to be a fruitless exercise.
Such a rudimentary approach almost worked when Klose was introduced, the veteran flashing a close-range header wide.
But Mesut Oezil was at his most threatening when he cut inside, as he does for Arsenal. He's not a conventional winger any more than Mueller is a conventional target man.
Mueller's sumptuous strike, his fourth goal of the tournament, came outside the box, where he does his best work.
So the crosses didn't tick the box. There weren't enough German players in it.
3 All right on the right
In the knockout stages, the right way promises to be the most productive route to Rio.
Jerome Boateng (above) has enjoyed this tournament a lot more than his disgraced brother Kevin-Prince Boateng, who was sent home early by Ghana.
The right back foraged against the United States, linking well with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Oezil; a positive triumvirate that looked the most likely to break behind the tentative Americans.
Boateng will continue to overcompensate for the absence of real dynamism on the other side, where left back Benedikt Howedes makes the most of being a centre back being played out of position.
He was booked against the Americans and was occasionally uncomfortable, leaving Podolski isolated further afield.
Loew has few options on the left, which only makes him all the more reliant upon his roving right side.
4 Oezil can learn from Lahm
In 2010, Oezil had nothing to lose. A largely unknown quantity, he played musical statutes with England, dancing around the stone Lions and thoroughly enjoying himself.
In Brazil, he has acquitted himself well without truly excelling. As he did with Arsenal on occasion, Oezil appears to be playing within himself; mostly favouring the safe pass, rather than the risky penetrative one.
He can learn from his skipper. Lahm (above) glided across the soaked Recife pitch; a king within his own court.
He popped up between Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker. He kept company with Mueller. He tidied up with Toni Kroos on that lopsided left.
Always unhurried, he bent the game to his will, controlling the pace, always ahead of the chasing pack.
If Lahm had long flowing hair and a beard and spoke Italian, the world would gush over this creative intellect and insouciance.
But he's German and stereotypes are hard to shake. That said, if Oezil wants to grow into this tournament and finish in a fashion befitting his undoubted talent, he should look over his shoulder at his skipper. Every game alongside Lahm is a lesson learnt.
Loew: We're a work in progress
Germany coach Joachim Loew was satisfied and relieved with his team's 1-0 win over the United States this morning (Singapore time) which clinched top spot in Group G and booked a last-16 berth.
He pointed out, however, that Germany still had plenty of room to improve, especially in their far-from-satisfying finishing which needs to be sharper when the World Cup enters the business end.
"There is always something to tweak, always something we can improve on," said Loew. "The organisation and the aggressiveness were better.
"I would have liked the team to be a bit more active, even though (the United States) were defending very deep."
Loew, who was seen flailing his arms and shouting angrily in stoppage time, said he was alarmed about carelessness in the closing stages when Germany missed a chance to double their lead and lost possession in midfield.
"We lost the ball at the end of the match unnecessarily and that's really dangerous - other teams take advantage of that," said Loew, assistant to US coach Juergen Klinsmann when he was Germany coach from 2004 to 2006 and a close friend of his.
"We had actually set out to avoid that kind of thing," he said when asked what had upset him.
"We could have had two or three more goals if we had played with a bit more finishing concentration."
Loew made two key changes to his midfield, replacing Sami Khedira with Bastian Schweinsteiger for the first time in Brazil and inserting the more experienced Lukas Podolski in place of Mario Goetze.
"I think we were dominant in midfield," said Loew. "Schweinsteiger left a good impression on me. He had energy, he had a good match."
Loew and Klinsmann had avoided all contact in the run-up to the World Cup but, after the final whistle, they revived their friendship dating back to a German coaching academy they attended together 14 years ago.
"I asked him about the result (of the Portugal-Ghana match) and he told me (the US) had also advanced to the next round," said Loew.
"I told him I'm happy for him. The United States were the underdogs and Juergen did it. If you've got a team that beat Ghana and draw against Portugal, I think you deserve to get to the last 16." - Reuters.