THE COACHES: JOACHIM LOEW v ALEJANDRO SABELLA
Germany's Joachim Loew proves to be the adaptable one at this World Cup
Loew must once again draw on his instincts to find a way past the resolute Argentinians
Published on Jul 13, 2014 7:48 AM
One has to feel for Joachim Loew. Germany are in the World Cup final for the first time in 12 years. His team have registered the most shocking football result in recent memory, a 7-1 thrashing of revered Brazil on their home turf.
Yet, there are still some quarters of Germany who are still not fully satisfied with the coach's performance at the Brazil World Cup.
Too conservative, they say. Too tactically naive, moan others, pointing to the playing of captain Philipp Lahm in a midfield position instead of full-back, where he is more effective. It is little wonder this man picks his nose on the touchline with such regularity.
But, while the jury may still be out on whether Loew is a success, the 54-year-old could not have picked a bigger occasion to prove his critics wrong.
At the Estadio do Maracana today, Loew could go down as not only the man to deliver Germany their fourth World Cup and first since 1990, but he could also accomplish what no other European coach has done, win the World Cup on Latin American soil.
But first he must convince his team that the euphoric semi-final victory would be hollow if they lose today in Rio de Janeiro.
"Nobody should feel invincible," declared Loew.
Adapting to changing circumstances has been something of a speciality for the former Freiburg player. He was never great as a player, in an era when German football was characterised by a defensive, disciplined and dedicated style. Long a fan of a more attacking game, evident by his creation of an attacking triumvirate when he coached Stuttgart to the German Cup in 1997, he found his soulmate in Juergen Klinsmann in 2004.
They transformed the German style of play from the efficient, but at times boring system, to what Brazil witnessed on Tuesday.
They were helped by the German football association's decision to overhaul its youth system, after a poor Euro 2000 which saw Die Mannschaft eliminated in the group stage.
Academies focusing on developing more technically-proficient home-grown players were set up. Clubs were also united in the belief that too many foreign players would not benefit the domestic game. The fruits of that project is what you see today.
In Brazil, Loew has again showed his ability to react to the situation. He had started the tournament playing a "false nine" system, which worked to dramatic effect in the 4-0 demolition of Portugal.
But, after a 2-2 draw with Ghana, a slim 1-0 win over the United States and the extra-time victory over Algeria suggested that things were not quite right with the team, he switched things again.
He brought Lahm back to full-back and reverted to playing with a striker, Miroslav Klose. The result was a dominant, but unspectacular 1-0 win over France in the quarter-final and that Brazil win.
Against Brazil, he was also quick to turn what could have been a plus for the hosts, into German advantage. He noticed that Brazil were overly affected, emotionally, by the Neymar injury. They had built the absence of one man up to a frenzy - holding up his jersey during the Brazilian national anthem, wearing caps bearing his name - that set up either a spectacular success or a dramatic failure.
"It was important to meet this passion and these emotions with calm, courage and with our own strength," said Loew, adding the team could see that Brazil lost their cool after conceding the first goal, and piled on the pressure to score four more in 18 minutes.
"They were shocked by our goals and it made the game easier for us."
Today, he will have to adapt again, against a disciplined Argentina outfit who are content to sit back and rely on the magic of Lionel Messi or a penalty shoot-out to win.
If his manages to pick a winning side, it will be the critics' turn to adapt and change their critical tune into one of praise and celebration.