7/8/2010 12:25:44 PM
Loew's plan worked to perfection in the first two games of the knockout stage
with wins over England and Argentina by combined scores of 8-1. Despite having
the second-youngest team in the tournament, Loew created the most dynamic side
to descend upon South Africa.
"We could only win the World Cup by playing attacking football and making life
difficult for other teams," Loew told Bild after Germany's 4-0 win in the last
eight against Argentina.
Germany's more recent success, however, was built on solid defense and 1-0
wins, exactly what it did eight years ago to reach its seventh World Cup final.
Loew, coaching in his first World Cup, felt it was time to alter the German
style. For a pair of games, Germany looked unstoppable.
Loew's old plan was executed perfectly in the semifinals Wednesday, only by
Spain. Spain kept the pressure on Germany for 90 minutes and, besides one good
chance from Toni Kroos, goalie Iker Casillas had the day off.
"We didn't have enough belief in ourselves," said Germany's Miroslav Klose.
Obviously, credit goes to Spain for enforcing its style of play. Vincente del
Bosque's team, the pre-tournament favorite, continued to do what they do best -
dominate possession. Xavi again orchestrated the play from midfield and Germany
was chasing the ball all match. Despite its third straight 1-0 win in knockout
play, Spain didn't win ugly. No other country, it seems, is Spain's equal in
talent or ability.
"Spain's organization and tactics are in a different league," said German
defender Marcell Jansen. Spain previously proved it to the Germans with a 1-0
win in the Euro 2008 final.
The Spaniards proved it again on Wednesday, this time, on a bigger stage. Now,
Spain is on the verge of its first World Cup title, and with a win over the
Netherlands would match Germany's feat of winning consecutive Euro and World
Germany missed 20-year-old emerging star Thomas Muller, who was suspended. But
what the Germans really lacked was Loew's plan. Germany did try to attack, but
the times it actually got the ball away from Spain, the Spaniards won it back.
Almost immediately. Almost every time.
"We lacked the courage of our convictions going forward," said Germany captain
Philipp Lahm. Yes, but the Germans also failed to commit enough people forward.
They relied too heavily on counter-attacking. That worked well against England
and Argentina, but it also worked because Germany took an early lead in both
Spain is too well-organized and disciplined to get caught on the counter. Loew
and the Germans failed to adjust. But as Loew said, it was simple: attack. The
Germans were enjoyable to watch when they opened up. Muller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas
Podolski and Klose created some of the best goals in the tournament. Not based
on individual effort, but through fast, smooth build-ups with pinpoint passes.
Germany didn't do that against Spain. For a team that lost influential Michael
Ballack to injury just weeks before the tournament, you could hardly tell. The
Germans used a lineup including nine starters 26 or younger, three 21 or less,
but extended their streak of advancing to knockout play in every World Cup.
Spain's Carles Puyol ended Germany's quest for a record eighth final with his
game-winning goal with 17 minutes remaining. But except for Klose and defender
Arne Friedrich, the Germans will likely have the same core of players four
years from now in Brazil to compete for the country's fourth World Cup title.
If Loew continues to build on the style of play Germany displayed in the first
two matches of the knockout stage in South Africa, his squad will be again be
entertaining to watch - and among the favorites. Had he stuck to that plan in
South Africa, Germany could be playing for that title Sunday, instead of being
in the third-place match Saturday against Uruguay.
Former England striker Gary Lineker once famously said: "Soccer is a game for
22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of
mistakes - and in the end Germany always wins."
Sometimes though, even the Germans lose.