It's win or bust for jovial Joachim
We're here only to win, says ice-cool Loew in rare jovial mood at press conference
GERMANY v ARGENTINA
(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)
Joachim Loew didn't just crack a smile, he laughed. The world was dazzled by his teeth this morning (Singapore time).
On the eve of the World Cup final, the most important game for Germany since 2002, he started making jokes.
It was an uncommon sight, but one entirely in keeping with the confidence that runs through the Germany camp, ahead of their Maracana showdown with Argentina tomorrow morning.
There was no fear, only a little farce.
When Loew was asked if Germany had copied Sergio Romero and prepared a cheat sheet for a possible penalty shoot-out, the coach held up a piece of paper and said: "I've got it right here."
And he chuckled. He actually chuckled. The frowning, narrow-eyed, cerebral coach - who usually says more with a T-shirt than he ever does in a press conference - was making gags; the German joker entirely at ease with all the aces in his pack.
His jovial mood inside the Maracana Stadium was unmistakable; the sub-text unavoidable. Germany didn't come here to lose. Twenty-four years is a long-enough wait. Impatience has given way to unswerving self-belief.
"I have no fear whatsoever," Loew insisted, when asked about facing Lionel Messi's Argentina.
"It's a match between two teams with a great history and legacy. Argentina are not dependent on just Messi. It will be close. We will both be fighting.
"But we believe if we impose our own game on Argentina, we will win."
Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger shared his coach's firm conviction. He knows the agonising pain of defeat. Silverware was almost within his grasp, but he lost the Euro 2008 final. His disappointment was compounded by semi-final exits at the next two major tournaments.
But he laughed off any notion of a culture of failure at the final stages.
"I lost in the Euro 2008 final and we missed out after that, but the team are different now. It's very solid now," the 29-year-old said.
"We just have a good feeling about tomorrow. I'm convinced we can win."
All the obvious angles were pitched at both men during the press conference, including Argentina's quest for revenge.
Messi and Javier Mascherano have both publicly admitted, in recent days, that they are harnessing their 4-0 humiliation by Germany in South Africa in 2010 to inspire teammates. Loew shrugged his shoulders at the news.
"There is always history, and this is going to be a close match between two equal teams, but we still believe we will win," he said.
When Schweinsteiger recalled their quarter-final in 2010, he giggled. Laughter was proving contagious.
With one hand on one half of the translator's headphones, he could have passed for a chilled-out DJ, a day before the most significant sporting contest of his life. He was happy to reminisce.
"I remember Messi and Mascherano in that game, they were like the leaders of a pack of wolves," Schweinsteiger said, smiling at the memory.
"I watched Mascherano against Holland when he stopped Arjen Robben with that late tackle. That shows the kind of attitude he has for his country.
"It won't be easy, but I'm convinced if we play to the best of our capabilities, I am sure we can beat them."
There it was again; another admission of supreme confidence. Like a song on a loop, the Germans are singing the same victorious number.
Their training session was conducted in chilly conditions in Rio this morning - the city has been drenched in seasonal rain in the last two days - but their mood was no less sunny.
Perhaps aware of the cameras - the Germans left nothing to chance - the gaiety was heightened, with teammates playfully pushing and shoving one another during the gentle shuttle runs.
Schweinsteiger, in particular, seemed to be enjoying himself. Whatever he says publicly, the Maracana represents arguably his last realistic chance to win an international trophy.
"There is huge anticipation in Germany, obviously, but there is no pressure, only joy," he said. ®
"There are lots of players, including me, who have played in high-ranking finals with our clubs before. We've won and lost finals before, and played in outstanding matches.
"All we have to do is focus on what makes us strong, the essentials, focus solely on football and we'll be fine."
By this stage, Schweinsteiger's sentences could have been finished off by anyone in the press conference.
Start positively, recognise the magnitude of the occasion, respect the opponent, but always end on an uplifting note that promised victory.
Loew even welcomed the additional burden of history. No European side have silenced the samba drums of jogo bonito on the South American continent before. Loew, as always, wasn't particular bothered.
"For us, it's just a matter of winning," he said, deflating the romantic with typical German efficiency.
"We know we can write history because Latin Americans have always dominated here. Can we make history? Sure. This could be an additional joy if we become the first Europeans to win, but it's not a priority."
Still smiling, Loew and Schweinsteiger left no one in any doubt as the two men squeezed into a minibus to take them to the final training session across town.
They came here to win. Germany are not willing to consider any other outcome.
Germany v Argentina
- Previous World Cup meetings:
1958: Argentina 1 West Germany 3
1966: Argentina 0 West Germany 0
1986: Argentina 3 West Germany 2 (final)
1990: Argentina 0 West Germany 1 (final)
2006: Argentina 1 Germany 1 (Germany win 4-2 on penalties)
2010: Argentina 0 Germany 4
- Team statistics:
Goals scored: Argentina 8, Germany 17
Goals from set piece: Argentina 1, Germany 3
Shots on target: Argentina 61, Germany 64
Corners awarded: Argentina 44, Germany 32
Fouls committed: Argentina 64, Germany 71
Yellow cards: Argentina 6, Germany 4
Distance ran per match: Argentina 113.9km, Germany 116km
Passes completed: Argentina 2,928, Germany 3,421
Pass completion rate: Argentina 78 per cent, Germany 82 per cent
- Argentina player statistics:
Top scorer: Lionel Messi (4)
Leading tackler: Javier Mascherano (18)
Most shots: Angel di Maria (25)
Most distance covered: Mascherano (67.2km)
Most passes completed: Mascherano (478)
- Germany player statistics:
Top scorer: Thomas Mueller (5)
Leading tackler: Benedikt Hoewedes (16)
Most shots: Mueller (16)
Most distance covered: Mueller (68.8km)
Most passes completed: Philipp Lahm (458).