Monday 19 March 2018

Loew's flawed Germans ready to go for jugular

The Germany players train at their seculded Campo Bahia resort. Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images
The Germany players train at their seculded Campo Bahia resort. Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Word had just filtered through of Costa Rica's heroics when Joachim Loew walked into the air-conditioned press conference room that offered respite from the stifling heat of Fortaleza.

"We have to just look at our next step," said the German boss, when asked if he would fear the surprise packages should they lock horns at a later stage of the tournament.

It was a strange line of questioning in the context of pre-tournament expectations but then, in Loew's camp, all is relatively calm. For now, at least, there is no stench of crisis. They've avoided the turbulence that has engulfed the other pre-competition favourites.

Spain's tickets for home are already booked, while Brazil have stuttered and Argentina failed to win admirers on their opening day. Germany, on the other hand, trampled all over their Portugese rivals to start their challenge on a high.

The failure of old foes England and yesterday's strife for their Euro 2012 conquerors Italy will have put an extra spring in the step of Die Mannschaft followers.

Even though they were dealt a reasonably difficult hand, Loew's group arrived here with absolute confidence they would advance to the latter stages and an opening destruction of main Group G rivals Portugal laid down the marker.

A Ghana side hurting from their loss to the USA should present an intriguing test tonight, with Loew also pointing to the fact that Germany followed opening wins in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 with a slip-up in their next match as a warning against complacency. Nevertheless, it would be a huge shock if they joined the casualty list.


The German FA (DFB) have certainly planned a long stay in Brazil. They rarely leave preparations to chance and, instead of booking into one of the available bases, they partnered with a private investor to construct a purpose-built facility 19 miles north of Porto Seguro, a coastal area convenient for their three group games in the north-east of this massive country.

'Campo Bahia' is, by all accounts, an impressive place, although the great unwashed will not be allowed to see it until the competition is finished.

It consists of 14 two-story villas with 65 residential units, a 7,500 square foot swimming pool, a spa, lounge and dining area, a full-size practice patch, a gym, a massive auditorium and, for good measure, seven original pieces of art from Germany and Brazil.

The association also brought 23 tons of luggage and equipment with them, including mountain bikes and billiard tables. When the current occupants leave, it will become an exclusive sports and nature resort.

Qualifying through the early rounds is merely ticking a box, just like making it to the tournament itself. They thrashed Ireland on the way to passport control and a reunion looms in the forthcoming European Championships campaign.

Martin O'Neill was in Salvador to watch a Thomas Mueller-inspired XI decimate the Portugese bunch that tore the Derryman's charges apart in New York a week previously, and it will only have confirmed what he knew already.

On the road to France, Ireland are racing for second place. Taking a total of even one point from the Germans in the two meetings, the first of which comes in Gelsenkirchen in October, would be a significant return.

The positive aspect of the Dublin leg taking place 12 months later is that, with two going through automatically, the top seeds should be home and dry by then. Not that it's made them any less ruthless in the past.

The contradiction about this Germany, however, is that while they conform to stereotypes by ruthlessly progressing to the latter hurdles, they've struggled to get their hands on the silverware.

Consequently, this generation have come here to defy the perception that they are chokers, who stutter with the finishing line in sight. Loew's boys are easy on the eye, with a fluid style of counter-attacking football that can be devastating in full flow. But they've also been neutralised when it really mattered.

When they lost the Euro '08 final to Spain, reaching the decider was considered a bonus. The more youthful squad that stormed into the semis in South Africa were comprehensively outpointed by Vicente Del Bosque's eventual winners.

Then, two years ago, when the youngest squad in Poland and Ukraine was deemed ready to claim a prize, they were outthought and outplayed by Cesare Prandelli's Italy in the penultimate round.

Loew was criticised for his tactical meddling, with a gamble on the deployment of Toni Kroos to stop Andrea Pirlo backfiring. "The substitution king of the Euros," said former World Cup winner Olaf Thon, sarcastically.

His players, meanwhile, were condemned for a lack of mental fortitude that is linked with their club endeavours. Phillipe Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Kroos and Mueller were part of the Bayern side incapable of overcoming an inferior Chelsea operation on home soil in the Champions League decider that preceded those Euros.

They did collect the trophy a year later by prevailing in the all-German showpiece with Borussia Dortmund but old doubts were raised when they capitulated in spectacular fashion against Real Madrid this term.

Loew's use of the Munich contingent will be a significant factor in this shot at glory. Sceptics say he has simply tried to copy Spain and/or Pepe Guardiola by adopting a 'false nine' approach with Mueller as his foremost attacker, yet it worked against the Portugese and, besides, he is not exactly blessed with a range of traditional striking options with veteran Miroslav Klose the only squad member fitting that bill.

In midfield, Schweinsteiger missed out in Salvador, with Lahm, Kroos and Real Madrid's Sami Khedira favoured in the engine room of the fluid 4-3-3. Loew said yesterday that the vice-captain is closer to full fitness after an interruted preparation without confirming he would be restored.

Further up the field, the unavailability of Dortmund flier Marco Reus is a cruel blow, although Loew does have other menacing options to cope in his absence. Andre Schuerrle and Mario Götze are a big part of his plans, while the enigmatic Mezut Ozil is another intriguing aspect of the German narrative.

The Arsenal playmaker was top scorer in qualifying, but he's still got a point to prove after some misfiring displays.

At the back, they don't have the same range of options. That's why the heavy knock shipped by centre-half Mats Hummels last week is a concern.

He has only engaged in light training subsequently with Boateng, who could come up against his brother Kevin-Prince, in line to revert from right full into the centre should Hummels miss out in what promises to be a lively affair.

Ghana rarely hold back anyway, while part of the German entertainment value is drawn from the leaky rearguard which squandered a 4-0 lead against Sweden in qualifying.

An inability to shut up shop means they have to be bold and consistently go for the jugular. That could serve them well in this phase of the race, even if they'll have to be smarter later on.

Whatever happens, their state of the art lodgings will ensure their legacy in this region.

It's what they do on the pitch, though, which will decide if they live long in the memory back home.


Irish Independent

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