Löw credits Germany's success to mix of English energy and Spanish flair
The jet black hair and that iconic, tight-fitting baby-blue cashmere V-neck – a lucky charm at these finals, it has emerged – have cast Joachim Löw as more of an Italianate than Germanic manager, and he declared yesterday that he had imbued something of the Latin, not to mention Spanish and English football cultures, into his new Germany side.
Löw, or "Jogi" as the German press have playfully taken to calling him, certainly doesn't lack confidence, as was revealed when he suggested that he had tried to coalesce his country's famed work-rate with English pace, Spanish fluidity and Italian defending to create a winning style, which he implied would surpass the European Championship-winning team of 1972, widely acknowledged as the nation's all-time best.
The manager's habit of mentioning England in dispatches brings salt to an open wound for the vanquished nation – it was only 36 hours ago that he was quipping about England "scoring twice" against Germany. But that's Löw, for sure a far more self-confident figure than the other three managers who are left in the tournament. Oscar Tabarez, Bert van der Marwijk and Vicente del Bosque are more inclined to keep their counsel.
Löw's Nationalmannschaft are certainly a more innovative side than their predecessors, led by Berti Vogts, Erich Ribbeck and Rudi Völler, though, and the manager's record of successfully switching to his favoured 4-2-3-1 when it really matters, such as midway through the 2008 European Championship, gives him grounds for self-confidence. He has said all along that this Germany will not feed off past glories. "A positive history can help psychologically but it must not be a crutch," he declared before this tournament began.
"I've seen a lot of international football, I have soaked it all up and taken away many aspects," ran his thesis. "In England, the tempo is incredible and something to be emulated. In Spain, there is the free-flowing style, technique and skill, and you can see that's something that is second nature to them, even to their youth teams.
"In Spain, the game is not just played or worked [at] but celebrated. It impresses me how easy it looks even though, of course, it isn't easy at all. I like combination passing football and that is what I work towards. Italy won the World Cup in 2006 with perfect defensive play but the game has moved on in the last four years. The teams in the final four have solid defences but you have to have more than that, a more versatile style of play."
Löw's fundamental point was that Germany have transcended the old warhorse stereotype – Fabio Capello and Diego Maradona will both attest to that – though it is certainly open to contradiction. There is an English Premier League tempo to Germany's counter-attacking, though we must wait another 36 hours to find out if that German defence resembles the Italy of old. Serbia and England proved it can crumble, while Argentina were crowded out so much in central areas that they did not test it. Spain may also argue that while Germany move the ball fast in their free-flowing style, they do not break from midfield in the way Del Bosque's side do.
Perhaps conscious of hubris, Löw fell short of suggesting that tomorrow's semi-final offered a chance for Germany to avenge the Euro 2008 final defeat to Spain. The Iberians have "several Messis" in their ranks, he observed – though he did feel the dynamics had changed in the past two years. "In 2008, there is no doubt that Spain were the best team at the tournament. They were also very good in the final," he said.
"But now the situation is different. We too have a good team and we have every reason to believe that we can succeed." All of which made Löw's attempt to cast his side as underdogs something of an afterthought. "They are the favourites for the title and in the last two to three years they've been the most consistent team, they've always played and won the important matches. They make it look easy. They don't have to use up all their energy. They are a team that make very few mistakes. Far fewer than the likes of England or Argentina and we will have to force them into making mistakes. Spain remain the natural World Cup favourites."
The Brazil-born Cacau is likely to replace the suspended Thomas Müller on the right-hand side of midfield tomorrow, although Piotr Trochowski and Bayer Leverkusen prodigy Toni Kroos will also be in with a shout. And the jumper stays. "I'm definitely not a superstitious man but it's becoming a bit of a running gag," Löw grinned. "My backroom staff tell me to wear it because every time I have we have scored four goals. I musn't even have it washed [now] so I think you will see me wearing it again against Spain."
Has Löw really incorporated Europe's best tactics?
Do Germany have Premier League pace? Certainly. The strategy is to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible and move rapidly into top gear. "I taught them that they must create goalscoring opportunities in any match situation," Joachim Löw said yesterday. "Italy, for example, in 2006, had perfect defensive structure but football has developed since. The teams that have played offensively are now in the last four."
Yes and no. There are comparisons in the way Germany operate, using the width of the pitch, and their appreciation of where team-mates are has been one of the finest aspects of the side at this World Cup. Spain have struggled for that fluency, particularly against Switzerland and Paraguay, and the unique tiki-taka football that won Euro 2008 has been missing. But the winner against Paraguay revealed a hint of the old intricacy. Don't discount Spain for the final.
Not entirely. Although they have conceded only two goals in the tournament, it should have actually been three, of course. The goal the Germans did concede to England revealed an aerial weakness and they have actually had an easier route to the semi-finals than Spain, despite beating bigger names. Though Spain have laboured, tomorrow they may relish the space they have been denied against pressing teams. They will feel that Germany's defence may well crack.