Even the Germans lose

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 Cup titles.

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 games.

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.