BERLIN, June 5 (Reuters) - Germany have been showered with accolades for the way they have played for two years but the architect of their fast-paced game, coach Joachim Loew, knows it will count for nothing if he fails to collect a title.
The 52-year-old softly-spoken coach goes into Euro 2012, his third tournament in charge, with what looks like his most complete team to date.
But citing the Netherlands, in 1974 and 1978, when they played the most inventive football, but lost two World Cup finals, critics argue Loew’s Germany play beautifully, but lack the killer punch that has made defending champions and World Cup holders Spain the odds-on favourites again.
“I am sensing the yearning for a major title, especially within the team,” said Loew, acknowledging that three-time European champions Germany are seeking a first title since 1996. “It is clear that I also want a place in the history books.”
The well-dressed German, whose club coaching experience includes moderately-successful spells in Germany, Turkey and Austria, was virtually unknown when he joined the national team as assistant to Juergen Klinsmann in 2004.
A master tactician and a lover of detailed planning and preparation, Loew succeeded Klinsmann in 2006 and coached Germany at the Euro 2008, when the team contained a backbone of players from Klinsmann’s time, including captain Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings.
They lost to Spain in the final.
Two years later at the World Cup in South Africa, Loew fielded the youngest German World Cup team in 76 years to establish them as one of the most exciting prospects.
It was Spain, again, who ended German title hopes with a 1-0 semi-final defeat.
The current squad, however, bears all the hallmarks of a mature Loew production.
A dazzling mix of youth and experience has replaced the once powerful Alpha males, and their physical presence in the German team, with former captain Ballack dropped last year.
A versatile and flexible 4-2-3-1 system that Loew has relied on in the past two years has proved successful as Germany breezed through the qualifiers with 10 wins in 10 games.
None of the current leaders in the team, with abundant experience, is older than 28. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski are a long way away from being veterans despite having won 170 caps between them.
Loew has also an overflow of quality on the bench with an equally-effective replacement for almost every starter, thanks to his insistence on introducing more and more young players.
Since the 2010 World Cup finals, where Germany scored four goals against both England and Argentina, Loew has injected even more youth into the squad with teenager Mario Goetze, defender Mats Hummels and Borussia Moenchengladbach top scorer Marco Reus all assured of a place in the squad.
The flawless qualifying campaign has whet Loew’s appetite for a major title which would lift the coach into a select group of German title-winning coaches alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Bertie Vogts, Helmut Schoen and Sepp Herberger, who led the Germans to their first major prize, winning the 1954 World Cup.
With Portugal, Denmark and Netherlands awaiting in the group stage, however, Loew knows he has to carefully tune his team to be in top form from the start.
“Obviously we are not afraid of these teams because we have a high quality team ourselves and we are very, very hungry,” said Loew. “Without these outstanding Spaniards, we would have won the title in the past two tournaments.”
Loew knows it is Spain they will most likely need to beat to clinch the title in Poland and Ukraine.
“It is wrong to believe we can beat them with one-on-ones and by being tough,” Loew said a few weeks ago. “We need to become equally skilled and more dominant on the pitch and we have improved on that in the past two years.” (Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett)