With a pre-tournament billing as joint favourites and the German nation confident of Euro 2008 success, Löw had received light-hearted questions even as it emerged last week the campaign bill was a cool €20 million. An impressive 2-0 defeat of Poland in the opening game last Sunday signalled all was well with captain Michael Ballack saying he was confident they were on the path to the knock-out phases.
But the mood changed dramatically after Croatia inflicted a shock 2-1 defeat on Thursday which dragged Germany – both the team and nation – back to reality.
The sun may have been bright over their training camp on the morning after the night before, but there were dark looks as Löw faced the media backlash.
“Make no mistake, and I will promise you this, my team will be totally different on the pitch in Vienna,” Löw defiantly told the media here. “You will see a more aggressive approach and a better running game. “All the things we did well against Poland were conspicuous by their absence against Croatia.”
In the Klagenfurt mixed zone after the defeat, centre-back Per Mertesacker said as far as he was concerned the Germany team had assumed a last eight place was their right.
And the next day, a German journalist said he felt the squad had been arrogant in the preparations for the game, a notion Löw strongly refuted. “I don’t prescribe to that, pre-match training was intense and committed, the players were focused and motivated. I don’t agree there was a visible arrogance, I am closest, so I should know. For any team to be arrogant after one win is fatal.”
As Löw faced his grilling, television screens around the room showed close-up images from the previous day of his face twisted in frustration as he prowled the Klagenfurt touchlines.
German Football Federation president Dr. Theo Zwanziger came out on Friday morning to say Löw will take Germany to the 2010 World Cup, but whether he chooses to stay in the job if his team comes home early will depend on results. Having made early exits after failing to win a group game at both Euro 2000 and Euro 2004, another disappointment will be viewed harshly. Especially as Monday’s opponents are neighbours Austria in Vienna who Löw’s side must beat to stay in the tournament and each player will go into the game knowing where he stands.
“All the players didn’t meet expectations, with very few exceptions,” Löw insisted. “Every player will be taken aside and given a piece of my mind. We just didn’t manage to turn the game around, even the players who came on slotted into the negative style.”
But there is no excusing the fact this Germany side has problems at the back, especially against former Eastern Blocks sides. The Czech Republic ripped the defence to shreds in Munich last October as they inflicted a 3-0 home defeat and, on Thursday, Croatia closed Germany down, forcing them into a long-ball game and plenty of mistakes.
Should they get the result they need in Vienna to make the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, Germany are likely to face Portugal in Basel next Thursday and a very difficult test awaits them which could define Löw’s reign.