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Past weighs heavy on Germany´s Loew

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 18 Jun 2008

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After they sneaked past a rather mediocre Austria with a 108 kilometres-per-hour bullet free kick from Michael Ballack's boot Germany coach Joachim Loew admitted an improvement would be needed to see off Portugal.

“If we want to reach our target and win the next game, we have to get to the level we have sometimes reached over the last two years,” said Loew, who is in his first tournament as coach having succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann after the 2006 World Cup.

The problem for Loew, who last year extended his contract through to the 2010 World Cup, is not so much the immediate future – Thursday's quarter-final – but his country's success-laden past which weighs like a ton of bricks on every coach who sits in the German hotseat.

Only ten men have actually coached Germany, going all the way back to when Otto Nerz took the baton from a German Football Federation (DFB) steering committee which stewarded the team through their first 20 years worth of internationals from 1908.

Half of those first 62 games resulted in defeat – but afterwards Die Mannschaft never looked back, and now the roll of honour reads three World Cups and three European Championships.

“We were under enormous pressure, but I am pleased the team played with hunger and emotion,” was Loew's relieved reaction after Ballack downed Austria.

But the pressure comes from more than this tournament as the aggregation not just of Germany's fine record but whole sporting psyche:

Second best is not good enough.

Since Berti Vogts coached the team to glory at Euro '96 the trophy cupboard has been bare – the worst drought since success in the 1954 World Cup through to the 1972 European Championship.

Now the Portuguese, one of the most fluent sides on the Old Continent and who knocked the Germans out of Euro 2000, stand in the way of Loew and a place in the last four.

Loew will not wish to be reminded of the opprobrium which rained down on then coach Erich Ribbeck after the loss eight years ago, which sent Germany packing after the group phase.

Such an early departure was almost unheard of and the reason for the dissatisfaction with Ribbeck's ill-fated two-year tenure is all the clearer when one takes a historical perspective today.

He remains the only man in the history of West German and post-unification German football to have failed to take the team to at least third place at a major tournament.

Nerz managed that at the 1934 World Cup before Sepp Herberger won the 1954 World Cup, successor Helmut Schoen landed the 1972 Euros and then the World Cup two years later, Jupp Derwall brought home the European title in 1980, Franz Beckenbauer the 1990 World Cup and Vogts then secured Euro 96 at Wembley.

Then came poor old Ribbeck for a disastrous tenure at France 98 and the 2000 Euros before Rudi Voeller coaxed his team to a World Cup final loss to Brazil.

Klinsmann managed third place – at Portugal's expense – at the last World Cup and now here comes Loew, just a German Cup and an Austrian league title to his coaching name, bearing the weight of history on his 48-year-old shoulders.

Nonetheless, here they are in the last eight led by a man of whom DFB president Theo Zwanziger says warmly: “There are no doubts as to his qualities – he does a great job.”

One traditional German characteristic is definitely present with Loew's team – one which appears like so many predecessors to play within itself in the early stages before stepping up a gear or two at the business end of an event.

The Germans are also traditionally happier outlasting and closing down technically fancy Latin sides whereas they struggle, relatively speaking, to impose themselves against the greater physical presence of the Eastern Europeans – witness the group loss to Croatia.

On Thursday night, Loew will know if his team have done enough to cast him in the mould of someone destined to join the German pantheon of greatness.

Or else shown him to be worthy of another Ribbeck-ribbing.

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