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EUROPE > No sentiment in Löw’s hunt

GDANSK, Poland - Agence France-Presse

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Germany coach Joachim Löw (R) shakes hands with midfielder Mesut Özil after Greece match. EPA Photo

Germany coach Joachim Löw (R) shakes hands with midfielder Mesut Özil after Greece match. EPA Photo

With the Bundesliga producing a conveyor belt of fresh talent and national coach Joachim Löw eager to promote youth, reputations no longer appear to count for much in the Germany team.

Löw sprung a considerable surprise for Friday’s Euro 2012 quarterfinal when he changed three of his six-strong attack in the 4-2 demolition of Greece.

Despite having won all three Group B games, the mantra “never change a winning team” was ignored in the last eight game as striker Mario Gomez, plus forwards Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller were all axed.

Miroslav Klose celebrated his 120th cap with his 64th international goal as he took Gomez’s place.
 “Our bench is very, very strong which makes us stand out,” said the 34-year-old Lazio star. “Anyone can come in and play, which is great for us.”

Well, not so great for those who found themselves surplus to requirements.

Arsenal-bound Lukas Podolski, a permanent fixture since Euro 2004, was dropped for Bayer Leverkusen’s Andre Schuerrle, who has been his understudy for the last 12 months.

Likewise Mueller, voted best young player at the 2010 World Cup where he finished as top scorer, was over-looked as Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Reus announced himself with silky passes, darting runs and Germany’s fourth goal.

“After three wins at Euro 2012, I wasn’t dissatisfied with my team in the slightest, but I had been planning on making the changes to the lineup for a while,” explained Löw after routing the Greeks.

“I thought we had to be unpredictable against Greece, because I felt they would be ready for us. It is good to be cheeky like that from time to time.”

Correct, but had the gamble not paid off, Löw would have taken considerable flak from a German press desperate for a first major title in 16 years.

Underlying the abandonment of his usual conservative selection policy was Löw’s preference for dynamic youth over experienced maturity and his changes serve to highlight the strength in depth the Germans enjoy.

Gomez has finally transferred his impressive finishing skills from Bayern Munich to the Euro 2012 stage and was voted the man-of-the-match against Portugal after scoring the winning header.

Likewise, Podolski celebrated his 100th cap in the 2-1 win against Denmark with a goal and the man-of-the-match award, yet he also found himself benched, as did Mueller, who was impressive in the 2-1 group win over Holland.

“I have often said I like youth, quality and dynamism, I value that over experience,” said Löw at the start of the tournament.

Now following a below-par performance against Greece, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger could be forgiven a nervous glance over his shoulder for Thursday’s semi-final with his Bayern team-mate Toni Kroos itching to start.

Löw’s stewardship has seen the Germans rise steadily since he took charge after the 2006 World Cup - he was assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann at those finals - and he has built a squad with considerable strength now in all positions.

His biggest impact has been to add pace and flair to Germany’s clichéd reputation for efficient defense by using the pace of his young forwards.

“Mr Löw has done some excellent work, he has managed to build a team which used to be known for its pragmatism,” said Greece coach Ferdando Santos after his team were well beaten.

“Thanks to the addition of new talented players, like (Mesut) Özil and (Sami) Khedira, he has added a degree of diversity and flexibility. They don’t actually have an obvious weak point, they are strong both in offense and defense.”

Löw’s selection against Greece can be regarded as a wake-up call to a squad who can consider themselves only as good as their last performance.

As the trio who were promoted against the Greeks proved, no German is now irreplaceable.

“We know from now on games of this magnitude are decided by small details, and we can’t allow a single mistake.”

Löw’s words serve as a warning to any Germany star not currently shining.

June/25/2012

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