Loew's the most meticulous of men
From dirty tables to Draxler, German coach controls everything around him
REPORTING FROM LILLE
ROUND OF 16
(Jerome Boateng 8, Mario Gomez 43, Julian Draxler 63)
Joachim Loew was preoccupied with the dust on the table.
More than once, he brushed away fluff, real or imagined, during the press conference here yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Call it attention to detail or a disturbing obsession with domestic chores, but Germany's coach presents himself as the most meticulous of men.
He's already the best-dressed manager at Euro 2016, but there really wasn't a hair out of place, a crease in that trademark V-neck sweater or anything in his immediate environment that wasn't clinically controlled.
Even the water bottles beside the microphone were straightened. When something isn't aligned, Loew really does know about it.
Whether it's desk dust or an imbalanced forward line, the World Cup winner finds the flaw and fixes it.
He swopped Mario Goetze for Julian Draxler and suddenly everything looks clear, like a grubby telescope cleaned and pulled into focus.
Germany's comfortable 3-0 victory over Slovakia yesterday morning (Singapore time) hinted at an upgraded model, but the perfectionist would not be swayed.
"In the early stages of the tournament, we had our problems, lots of tactics along the way," said the 56-year-old.
"We put in a great effort against Slovakia, in defence and attack.
"But, with all due respect to Slovakia, our opponents will get better. There's a need to improve."
Loew means every word he says.
The journey is one of perpetual improvement, striving for the next victory, rather than fixate on the past.
Loew was looking ahead to the last eight the moment his side scored a third goal against Slovakia, pulling Toni Kroos aside to assess his resources.
"I asked Kroos if he was fit and could continue," Loew said.
"I was already thinking about the next game. We have players on yellow cards, Jerome Boateng and Sami Khedira for instance, so I made my substitutions carefully."
Loew sipped his water, just a mouthful, as he did after every question. Subconsciously, his every move seems calculated and precise.
In restoring Draxler to the side, at the expense of Goetze, he calculated on the Wolfsburg winger's precision.
"Draxler has courage in one-on-one situations. He's not afraid to attack," said Loew, addressing Germany's lack of penetration in the group games.
"He knows he's fast and knows he can beat his opponent and proved it against Slovakia. An assist and a goal tell you everything."
Loew is often accused of making the obvious changes only at the point of no return, when a stubborn man finds himself entirely out of options.
But the accusation does the detailed, complex coach a disservice.
Draxler for Goetze wasn't straightforward. Draxler remains an intoxicating prospect, but he's still a 22-year-old winger, barely shaving at Wolfsburg.
Goetze is an established World Cup winner, an unreliable brand certainly, but a brand name nonetheless.
Likewise, the return of Mario Gomez in the last two games gave Germany a focal point, a conventional No. 9, acting as a backboard for Draxler, Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller to play off.
But the Besiktas striker hadn't featured for his national side for the best part of four years. He was yesterday's news, a splintered battering ram, seeing out his nondescript days in Turkey.
Loew was unperturbed, concerned only with what he needs, rather than what his critics want, refusing to pander to simple labels and safe alternatives.
"It's not false No. 9s or true No. 9s," he insisted.
"It's about using the right striker, someone who's comfortable leading from the front and allowing others to join him in the penalty box.
"That was not the case against Poland but, against Slovakia, we always had three or four players in the box. That's all I need. Size and reputation do not matter."
Loew's underlying success rests with his uncanny ability to make changes that only appear obvious after the fact because they worked, fitting seamlessly into Germany's refined pattern.
Joshua Kimmich solved his nation's fullback woes, giving Germany a defensive stability few expected before the tournament began. They are yet to concede a goal.
Before Euro 2016, he had one international cap and just a full season of top-flight football on an otherwise sparse resume.
Now it's hard to imagine Germany heading into the quarter-finals without him, or Draxler, or even Gomez.
But that's not Loew's way. Form is always temporary. Tinkering is permanent. The finished article doesn't exist. It's only polished further to increase its lustre.
"No, against Italy or Spain, I might change or I might not," he said.
"You saw how much Draxler benefited from being rested; he was quick and sharp. I don't always have to keep the same starting 11."
Germany, the world champions and Euro 2016 favourites, are still a work in progress.
Loew wouldn't have it any other way.
Germany coach Joachim Loew appears to have found the right formula to get his attack firing at Euro 2016 after Julian Draxler's outstanding contribution in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 3-0 win over Slovakia.
The 22-year-old Wolfsburg attacking midfielder was the Man of the Match as Germany produced arguably their slickest performance since winning the 2014 World Cup to clinch a place in the European Championship quarter-finals.
After Jerome Boateng's early opener, Mesut Oezil had a 13th-minute penalty saved before Draxler (above) intervened with an assist and a goal to send the world champions into the last eight.
Playing on the left wing, Draxler combined superbly with Jonas Hector before cutting the ball back for Mario Gomez to double Germany's lead just before half-time.
And the former Schalke prodigy then volleyed home on his right foot from close range following a corner just after the hour mark, securing a comfortable win on a sunny evening in northern France.
Julian Draxler (above).
Draxler had started Germany's opening two games before being left on the bench in the 1-0 win against Northern Ireland last Tuesday, but he was recalled at the expense of Mario Goetze yesterday morning and his performance justified Loew's selection.
"It wasn't easy in the last game because I didn't play but, today, I was happy to play and help the team," said Draxler.
"We have a lot of quality in our side, so it doesn't matter if I don't play. I just work hard in training, so the manager can count on me if needed."
Draxler, who said he found out he would be starting the game when he spoke to Loew just after breakfast at the team's hotel, admitted getting into one-on-one situations with the Slovakian defence had been a key part of the German plan.
"The coach asked me to do that. He gave me a lot of self-confidence. He trusts in my quality and wanted me to search for the one-on-ones," said Draxler, who gave Slovakia's Bundesliga-based right back Peter Pekarik a torrid time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
A player with "two magic feet" according to Gomez, Draxler's performance summed up why Manchester United have been linked with a £30 million ($55.4m) bid to sign him just a year after he joined Wolfsburg.
It may, however, take far more than that for Wolfsburg to part with a player who is not 23 until September and has four years left on his contract, especially after his display yesterday.
WHAT THE FANS SAY
"I believe that germany have what it takes to go all the way. They played extremely well in the winover slovakia and, if they are able to ‘switch it on’ again, even the so-called big teams won’t be much of a problem for them.”
— Kevin Wang (below, in white), student, 24, at Harry’s Bar in Clarke Quay yesterday
"Germany are growing into the tournament. but, apart from them, there are other strong teams like France, Portugal and belgium who have qualified for the last eight. it will be a France v germany final this year.”
— Ralf Gielen (above, in stripes), consultant, 45, at Harry’s Bar in Clarke Quay
Sniffing Loew at it again
Someone may want to tell Joachim Loew that the whole world can see what he is up to on the touchlines.
First it was his hands down his trousers, then his backside, now it's his wet armpit that the Germany boss (below) is scratching and sniffing.
Another video of Loew having a whiff of his armpit during the 3-0 win over Slovakia in the Euro 2016 Round-of-16 clash yesterday morning (Singapore time) has gone viral online.
So where is he going to scratch and sniff next?
The Mirror ran a poll on the possibilities: his feet, his other armpit, he's going to pick his nose and eat it and there's literally no body parts left.
Whatever it is, Loew has his own ways of relieving the pressure during matches.
- Wire Services.