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Loew Under Fire After Germany Disappoint in Euro 2008

After losing to Croatia, coach Joachim Loew promised that fans would see a different Germany against Austria. But what they got was more of the same against a weaker opponent. Now some are turning on Yogi.

Loew and Hickersberger go into the tribune

Loew, r, and his Austrian counterpart were banned form the touchline

Euro 2008 was supposed to be the tournament where the new German brand of power soccer, pioneered by Loew and his predecessor Juergen Klinsmann, resulted in some silverware.

Instead, the co-favorites struggled to survive a first-round group that was among the weakest ever in the competition.

Germany's 1-0 win against Austria came against a side whose main striker played most of his matches this season for Werder Bremen's amateurs -- in the Bundesliga's third division.

Nonetheless, Germany needed a 120 km/h (74.5 mph) free kick from Michael Ballack to best their much smaller southern neighbors. After the match, many credited Ballack with saving Yogi's hide.

Germany's Michael Ballack, 13, scores the opening goal after shooting a free kick

One moment of Ballack brilliance made up for a dismal performance

"The captain personally spared the team and above all the team management the unpleasant discussions that would have followed Germany potentially exiting the tournament in Vienna," wrote the on-line version of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. "Ballack was Loew's savior."

Empty words?

Austria's Gyorgy Garics, left, heads the ball ahead of Germany's Mario Gomez

Mario Gomez and the rest of Germany's attack have been weak

After Germany's shock loss to Croatia on June 12, Germany's governing soccer body, the DFB, was quick to assure the press that Loew would retain his job, even if the team were to crash out of Euro 2008.

But few people put much stock in those assurances, and some experts are beginning to question the coach, who was sent to grandstands, together with his Austrian counterpart, for complaining about the officiating.

"It fit the quality of the match that it was game over after 40 minutes for the two men responsible for the teams' strategy and style," wrote the daily Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Bloggers have been even harsher.

"You can't play more horridly," wrote one disappointed German fan on a soccer discussion forum. "But I though it was even worse how Loew sat in the stands, relaxed and chewing gum, as though he were on vacation."

The Catch-22 is that poor performances undermine a coach's credibility with his players, and some pundits are already questioning whether Klinsmann's former assistant has the necessary authority within the team.

"It was difficult to see a shortcoming in having assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick take over in the second half," wrote the Tagespiegel. "The way the Germans were playing, it didn't seem like they were open to any sort of instructions anyway."

Do or die against Portugal

German coach Joachim Loew, left, listens to goalkeeper Jens Lehmann

Loew has also been criticized for sticking with Lehmann

Loew probably doesn't need a win against quarterfinal opponents Portugal, now one of the tournament favorites, in order to keep his job. But both fans and the DFB higher-ups will want to see a return to the fluid, short-passing game Germany played against their first Euro 2008 foes Poland.

"Loew won his most important game thus far and will be allowed to continue modernizing the national squad," wrote The Financial Times Germany. "They're in bitter need of it."

And some hope that Germany's underdog status going into that match will remove the pressure that may have kept the team from playing its best in the group stage.

"As Ballack himself said with a bit of relief, Germany is a clear outsider against Portugal, and maybe that was Loew's plan," wrote the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "If so, it was a stroke of genius."

But should Germany maintain their lethargic form and get thrashed by Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., no one will be calling Loew a genius.

Instead, job guarantee or not, many will call for his head.

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