Loew keeps cool despite witch-hunt
Germany's beleaguered coach defiant in the face of intense pressure
FRANCE v GERMANY
(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
Joachim Loew is 24 hours away from a fourth straight quarter-final in a major tournament, but the vultures are circling.
German journalists are practically at gates with torches and pitchforks. Even at the Maracana, the witch-hunt shows no sign of abating.
His national media harassed him this morning (Singapore time), goaded him into addressing the astonishingly vitriolic headlines with his name back home.
But Loew refused to take the bait.
"I'm pretty far away from everything's that being said about me in Germany," he said, ahead of the quarter-final against France tonight (Singapore time).
"There's a difference between the public opinion and the published opinion at home.
"Believe me, I know there is pressure and there will always be dissenting views.
"But we've had three wins and a draw. We didn't play well against Algeria, but we won. We're well prepared and ultra motivated to beat France."
Loew's defensive stance appeared extraordinary.
Prestigious nations were sent home within five days. Other countries played well, but lost to Lady Luck. One or two performed dreadfully from first minute to last and their managers were still spared the public haranguing that Loew has endured in the last week.
Germany are still here. But the focus keeps shifting towards whether their manager will be by the end of the tournament.
"I'm always being asked what is next for me. In South Africa, my job was at risk after the first couple of days," Loew said.
"I couldn't care less about the speculation. We're in the last eight now. We hope to be in last four and that's all there is to talk about."
Germany's beleaguered manager can't escape the grilling. Every press conference feels like a pit-roasting. No-one's prepared to turn down the heat until he's done.
Questions about his future ahead of the quarter-final not only appeared ill-timed, but also unfair considering the circumstances behind the lacklustre showing against Algeria.
Loew confirmed that seven players came down with flu symptoms before the Round-of-16 encounter, with Mat Hummels declaring full fitness only this morning.
He should start against France to bring some desperately needed stability at the back.
"One third of our team complained of sore throats and other symptoms. Perhaps the air-conditioning didn't help, but the fever spread through the squad," Loew said.
"Yesterday, the players trained with a slight cold, so we just have to hope there is no worsening of the symptoms overnight."
Apart from Hummels' return, Loew continues to deal with the public clamouring for his skipper to join Hummels at the back.
Against Algeria, Philipp Lahm was caught between two stools; his labouring midfield and a lopsided defence.
Trying to play a jack of all trades, he mastered none until Loew conceded defeat and pulled his skipper to right back. The debate rages on in Germany.
"It's always a big discussion with Lahm. People have been talking about where he should and should not play for years." Loew said.
"It's not helping me here and now. So what's being discussed in Germany doesn't influence me here.
"Where will he play tomorrow? Well, when he runs out, you can see where he is. Then you should be able to work it out for yourself quite quickly."
Loew's rare moment of levity lightened the mood, but it was obvious the Germany camp tires of discussing their enigmatic skipper.
"That's a question for the coach. I believe you've asked him that already," said midfielder Toni Kroos, when asked where he thought Lahm should play.
"I believe our midfield is excellent at this World Cup and we can all play in different positions. It's up to the coach."
The contrast between the French and German training camps at the Maracana this morning was remarkable.
Didier Deschamps' session was a fluffy souffle; light, airy and sweet.
Loew's afternoon in front of the cameras shared all the sourness of sauerkraut, with journalists trying to make him look like a cabbage.
But he was refreshingly defiant. Four consecutive quarter-finals have earned him that right at least.
"We haven't shown a great, consistent performance so far," he admitted. "It's not always possible to deliver top performances.
"It's not a computer game. Even your own team are not easy to program.
"But we showed against Algeria in extra time that we are fighters. We brought Algeria to their knees.
"We proved we have the will to win."
The pressure is nothing new. We have the pressure because we are good players and a top team.
— Germany’s Toni Kroos
Love and hate
As Europe's football powerhouses prepare to meet at the Maracana, the contrasting mood in the two camps couldn't be more striking. NEIL HUMPHREYS speaks to journalists from both countries to find out how the Germans and French feel about their nations' progress in Brazil
Thorsten Mesch, German TV broadcaster with Sport 1
"The German media are never happy with the way the team are playing. The desire to become world champions is so great in Germany that we just can't tolerate failure.
"But the team's defence is weak, they don't push forward to support the midfield and attack. We have Philipp Lahm playing in midfield. Back in Germany, everyone is saying Lahm must play in defence if we are to have any chance.
"Mesut Oezil is another big problem for us. He is not being played in the right position. He plays on the right and then he shifts to the left, but his best position for Germany has always been in the centre, but Joachim Loew changes his tactics.
"He doesn't retreat enough, he doesn't defend, but it's not really his fault because he's not playing in his natural, creative position. His form isn't great, but he is also being punished for tactics that do not suit him. We are sacrificing his natural game.
"If they don't beat France - or even if they go all the way and don't win the World Cup - the German people will want Loew to go. I think he knows that, too. Germany won't accept a quarter-final defeat. The feeling is he must win the World Cup to keep his job.
"The German people are demanding a new philosophy, someone with fresh ideas, someone like Juergen Klopp. But that's a discussion for another time. First, Loew must beat France at the very least."
Gildas Crozon, French newspaper journalist for Le Courrier de l'Ouest
"People like this French team now. That doesn't sound like much, but for many years we didn't like our own national team. The World Cup in 2010 was the lowest moment in our football history, but this feels like a resurrection.
"It's not the 1998 team with great individuals, but this is a young team, and the key word is 'team'. Whenever we speak to the French players now, they always use words like 'unity' and 'friendship', it's like a holiday for them right now in Brazil, but in a good way - they enjoy being with each other.
"The turning point was the play-off win over Ukraine. That's when the team spirit really came together and it's been growing ever since. What we have to see now is how they will react if they go a goal down against Germany. That will be their first test.
"Didier Deschamps has made a huge difference. When you listen to him speak, he is very persuasive. He knows how to convince his players. In the tough moments before Ukraine, what he said to his players was so inspirational and insightful.
"But the French people are so surprised we got this far. To be so close to being eliminated in the play-offs and then making the quarter-finals by playing such fast, attractive football has surprised us all.
"If we are eliminated against Germany, there will be not be national anger.Deschamps' contract has been extended to 2016 so it feels like a fresh beginning. The confidence is very high now."