Loew's last chance
Germany coach under pressure to deliver after three consecutive semi-final exits at major tournaments
FRANCE v GERMANY
(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
The line of questioning clearly irritated Joachim Loew. What began as a gentle routine about injuries and flu outbreaks swiftly descended into an interrogation.
German journalists demanded more of Die Mannschaft. Suddenly, Loew was in the dock.
Beneath his floppy boy-band hair, his wide eyes revealed his frustration.
In the end, his raised his arms in exasperation and offered a pertinent retort to everyone present in the press conference... "Would you rather Germany were not in the quarter-finals?"
At first glance, he had a point.
Germany's progress to the last eight has been rewarded with increasing cynicism. The more they succeed, the more they are accused of alleged failures.
England, Spain, Italy and Portugal would dearly love to "fail" as often as the Germans at this tournament.
Germany are three steps from heaven, but Loew is sliding into a personal hell. His contract with the German Football Association (DFB) run until June 2016, but the suspicion here is if he falls to the French in the Maracana tonight, he won't make it.
Loew is on his last chance.
He is struggling with the contradiction; the inconsistency and the assumption that he is judged by harsher, crueler criteria. Roy Hodgson leaves Brazil without a victory and earns a desultory pat on the back and the keys to Euro 2016. Loew is forever one game from falling on his sword.
That's the Germany way; the winning way, the only way. The easier path to Californian tans, khaki trousers and national adulation in defeat was taken by his predecessor Juergen Klinsmann. Loew stayed with the golden generation. Heavy lies the crown of German expectancy.
His side's systematic destruction of Portugal lifted the bar that he's been struggling to clear ever since. Ghana and the United States proved more obdurate opposition than anticipated. The performance against Algeria tiptoed dangerously towards abject.
Loew has recoiled at the uncertainty. His methodical manner struggles with the Spanish Inquisition. His pride has been bruised by the belittling of his team.
At press conferences, his confused eyes scan the room for a friendly face, a sympathetic voice; someone who shares his simple concept of sports participating. Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.
The respected football philosopher has struggled with the blinkered thinking of others. Victories are being ridiculed. Defeated opponents are being championed. Germany's progress is being contaminated by caveats, qualifiers and asterisks.
Winning leaves him at a loss for words. Retired captains are questioning Loew's line-ups, challenging him to question himself. Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthaeus are not alone in criticising Mesut Oezil. Loew's persistence with his sputtering playmaker hints at a coach scrambling for alternatives.
Centre backs Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Hoewedes continue to be played out of position, despite Philipp Lahm's preference for the right-back slot.
The Americans bulldozed their way to the byeline in the group stages. Even the Algerians made hay while the sun shone on their fullbacks. Faouzi Ghoulam bullied Shkodran Mustafi with a cruel, unforgiving consistency usually reserved for the school playground.
Ballack was uncharacteristically blunt. "That was the worst performance for years," he said after the Algeria match.
Hyperbole got the better of Ballack, but hysteria is taking hold among the Germans.
MARKER FOR BRAZIL
The belligerent boys of Bloemfontein aren't blooming anymore. The kids were all right in South Africa, devouring England and humiliating Argentina. They laid down a marker for Brazil.
The Teutonic army were on their way, combining the country's renowned ruthless efficiency with a newfound aesthetic largely pioneered by Loew.
He had dismissed the sterile stereotype and put the sexy back into Germany football.
Three consecutive semi-finals at major tournaments confirmed the sense of evolution. Momentum was on their side. Rio's hilly terrain offered a natural summit.
But evolution hasn't quite ignited a revolution. Sexy football has swiftly given way to something close to celibacy. The Germans can't score. They are stagnating as rivals around them are growing, peaking, excelling at the right time.
Three semi-finals galvanise a nation. But a fourth premature exit at the knockout stage renders them nearly men, close but no cigar. They occasionally flatter, but no longer deceive. DFB may conclude that this is far as they can go under Loew.
Oezil, England's merciless torturer in 2010, has the calendar in his corner. Age is on his side. He is primed to pick off the French, as long as he rediscovers the form that has eluded him so far.
The axe may fall if he doesn't. Loew has persevered with him for long enough.
Oezil aside, Germany are blessed with a natural balance of Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze's creative endeavour, Toni Kroos' work ethic and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lahm's unrivalled World Cup experience.
They are primed to prevail. This has to be Loew's tournament.
The Maracana offers a junction where fortunes could cross over. France are in the ascendency. The Germans are at risk of hitting a plateau. History may compare this quarter-final to a double helix; the moment when Les Bleus' rise coincided with the beginning of Die Mannschaft's fall.
Loew may not come out the other end.
Three consecutive exits at major tournaments represent progress. But a fourth would feel a lot like failure.