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Neil Humphreys
Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014

Sports

World Cup: Loew deserves this

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014

FINAL: GERMANY v ARGENTINA

(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141; StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)

Joachim Loew has earned his moment at the Maracana.

Germany's participation in the World Cup final is already a triumph for the most beautiful of tournaments.

Fate is notoriously fickle, but on this occasion the two most compelling plotlines have converged for an engrossing final act. The greatest footballer is meeting the greatest team.

Lionel Messi's minimalist creator runs out tomorrow morning (Singapore time) alongside Germany's midfield masters.

Evolution and ingenuity have been rewarded with a fitting finale; an appropriate showcase for a tournament that has fused improvised individuality with collective creativity.

And nobody combined the two better than Germany's coach. His road to Rio has been one of recovery and redemption. Loew deserves to leave Brazil on a high.

Today, he basks in the adulation of his countrymen. A week ago, they almost broke him.

On the eve of Germany's quarter-final against France, the German public was out of patience.

His wardrobe choices mirrored those he made on the team-sheet; a destabilising mix of vanity, arrogance and indifference.

Three semi-finals and no silverware had convinced Loew's critics of his inherent shortcomings. He was a one-trick pony unable to maximise the talent bestowed upon him by the excellent German youth system.

Philipp Lahm supposedly encapsulated Loew's stubbornness. He had deployed his skipper in midfield. He obviously listened to no one but himself.

But he had reservations not with Lahm, but the fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira. By the time La Marseillaise echoed around the Maracana, the midfield duo were ready for the French.

In that moment, Germany had quietly completed their transformation from contenders to would-be conquerors. And they made us fall in love with football all over again.

The Germans have served as defenders of the faith; restoring hope for a tournament thought to be in disrepair before the opening ceremony.

Germany kept the flame flickering; their humbling of the hosts forever seared into the souls of all those privileged to witness football at its most flawless. But their achievements extend beyond the four-week festival. Their progress has demonstrated that real sporting beauty is not skin deep, it goes to the very core of this glorious game.

The Germans showed how it was possible to channel national shame in the search for salvation. They recalibrated and achieved resurrection.

The stain of Euro 2000, when they went home without a point, was replaced by the most attractive of production lines, with 366 educational centres incubating young talents and 1,300 highly qualified coaches nurturing them. They took boys and made men; fearless mavericks ready for the Maracana.

And Loew tinkered accordingly. He made the most of the apples coming his way from the Bundesliga orchard.

Once he got the best out of Toni Kroos, he was in control.

What Loew has fashioned really is something to share with the grandchildren. He has taken old tiki-taka training videos and hit fast forward. Germany's need for speed is thrillingly addictive.

Barcelona's possession has been mixed with Bayern Munich's athletic penetration to create football that is as attractive as it is pretty.

Brazil's samba drums have been silenced, but Loew's boys are still bringing joga bonito to the Maracana.

The Beautiful Game owes them a debt of gratitude. The World Cup trophy should settle the score.

"Pressure from Germany to win the World Cup? What pressure are you talking about?"

- Joachim Loew (above) joking during a TV interview before the World Cup

"I haven't read a newspaper since we got here. We are focused on how we can win, not how we can avoid losing."

- Loew after he was criticised for his stubbornness to change


This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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