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Germany coach Loew likely needs a win against Ghana to survive

This World Cup has highlighted Joachim Loew's strengths and weaknesses as a coach. Now Loew's future probably comes down to whether Germany can get a crucial victory against Ghana.

Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, center, saves a peanlty kick by Germany's Lukas Podolski

Germany's backs are against the wall

It's all in Germany's own hands. A win over Ghana on Wednesday evening would mean the Nationalelf progress, while a loss would send them home, and a draw would leave them hoping Australia can take points off Serbia.

But the match is not just about the 2010 tournament. It's also about the future of the German national team.

The pundits here pretty much all agree that should Germany crash out in the group stage, something no German national team has ever done, Joachim Loew's position would become untenable, and he would resign.

Germany head coach Joachim Loew

Loew's 52nd match in charge could be his last

Speculation is rife that Matthias Sammer, currently Sports Director for the German football association, the DFB, is waiting in the wings to take over Loew's job.

There's no questioning Loew's qualities as a coach. As assistant to Juergen Klinsmann, he was the tactical architect behind Germany's third-place finish at the last World Cup. And as head coach, he led the squad to second place in the 2008 European Championship.

But Loew has also been criticized for personal bias in putting together his teams and for sticking by out-of-form favorites - in this case forwards Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski.

So which Germany will we see against Ghana? The well-oiled unit that delighted fans and thrashed Australia in its first match, or the inexperienced side that failed to get a point against Serbia last Friday?

Onus on Germany to attack

Germany's Thomas Mueller

Thomas Mueller is Germany's new lucky number 13

Ghana are a defensive side under any circumstances, and with the Black Stars only needing a point to qualify for the next round, they'll almost certainly keep it tight at the back and play for a draw.

Germany showed against Australia that they have the tactics and the talent to break opponents down. The team is comfortable playing a modern 4-2-3-1 formation that utilizes its strength in offensive midfield.

Youngster Thomas Mueller, who essentially plays on the right-wing, has continued the stellar form he showed for Bayern Munich last season and should be able to get behind Ghana's back four.

Mesut Oezil in midfield will use his pace to try to provoke some early yellow cards, and Podolski will be expected to keep firing powerful left-footed blasts from medium range - a reasonable strategy since Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson is anything but world class.

Meanwhile, defensive midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira should be up to the task of keeper Ghana's attackers at bay. The Black Stars' two goals in South Africa have both come from penalties.

Ghana's Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan has scored all of Ghana's goals

But if Germany think that Ghana will be as easy to beat as Australia, they better think again.

Stepping up in the clutch

Striker Miroslav Klose is suspended after seeing red last Friday, which comes as a relief for many German fans. Aside from his headed goal against the Socceroos, Klose has been dreadful, supporting the arguments of those who felt he should never have been nominated after a poor league season.

Loew will replace him with Cacau. The naturalized German, who was born in Brazil, is much more agile than Klose, but he's smaller and thus less suited to playing as a lone center-forward.

Cacau and Klose

Cacau is adifferent sort of striker than Klose

Podolski also has to show he's equal to the pressure. After playing well against Australia, Poldi missed a sitter and a penalty that could have secured Germany at least a point against the Serbs.

The fact that Podolski was taking that penalty at all underscores the relative youth of the German squad, which has had to compensate for the absence of injured team captain Michael Ballack.

Germany could use his experience against Ghana, especially as the squad is probably going to have to be patient and not try to force attacks. Keeping tactical discipline will be the responsibility of Philipp Lahm, Ballack's replacement as captain, and Schweinsteiger, the squad's on-field leader.

End of an era?

Germany's Miroslav Klose, second from right, hugs teammate Per Mertesacker

Loew wants to see scenes like this after the Ghana match

Should Germany fail to find the back of the net, or suffer a meltdown due to inexperience, Loew will likely be lambasted for refusing to take in-form striker Kevin Kuranyi and veteran midfielder Torsten Frings to South Africa.

Personal antipathies played a role in both those omissions, contributing to the impression that while the coach knows tactics, he's not particularly good with people.

In essence, if Germany were to go out, the footballing progress the squad has made in the past five years under Loew will run afoul of his shortcomings as a manager of personalities.

Loew knows that a couple of unlucky results can scupper even the best of systems - which probably why he was already displaying such anger on the sidelines of the match against Serbia.

Still, Germany come into the Ghana match as favorites. If the talented but young squad plays up to its potential, Loew should be able to continue what's thus far been a very successful project.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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