First they were left reeling, then came the recriminations. Germany awoke yesterday to deal with the 2-1 defeat to Croatia on Thursday that has dealt a severe blow to their attempts to win Euro 2008. Franz Beckenbauer, the grand statesman of German football, writing in his column for the newspaper Bild, said he was "stunned".
Then came the reaction of the Germany coach, Joachim Löw. The 48-year-old, Jürgen Klinsmann's scarf-wearing assistant during the last World Cup campaign and the man credited as the tactical brains behind their performances two years ago, let rip ahead of what has turned into a vital final group game against Austria on Monday.
"The Austrians will run for their lives, they have a one-off chance to immortalise themselves and put themselves in the quarter-finals. But make no mistake, and I promise you this, my team will be totally different on the pitch in Vienna," Löw said.
"You will see a difference in attitude, and changes to the starting line-up are more than likely. You will see a more aggressive, running game from us, because all the things we did well in the Poland game were conspicuous by their absence against Croatia.
"All the players didn't meet expectations with very few exceptions," he added. "I won't analyse each player individually, but I will take each player aside and give them a piece of my mind."
The focus has fallen on Jens Lehmann – although he may survive the cull – Mario Gomez, Marcell Jansen, Christoph Metzelder, Clemens Fritz, and Miroslav Klose. With Lukas Podolski struggling with injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger suspended, changes will be made.
Löw even turned on Michael Ballack, urging the German captain to take on more responsibility. "We did without him for many, many months when he was injured, but the shackles have been on him here with one or two players marking him," he said. "He has been double-marked, especially against Croatia and unable to show his full abilities. But he is a priceless player in attack and defence. I will tell him to ask for the ball more and to contribute whatever he can to our build-up."
Ballack will survive in the team, as will Torsten Frings, but admitted yesterday that Germany were guilty of "a lot of mistakes, especially at the back" against the Croats, adding "that is not like a German team", while full-back Philipp Lahm said the squad needed to "all take a long, hard look at ourselves".
The Euros have been an unhappy competition for the Germans since the turn of the millennium – beating Poland last Sunday was their first victory since winning the trophy in 1996. Confidence has taken such a dent that Beckenbauer said that if they played as they did against Croatia, they "have to fear Austria". Germany still only need a draw on Monday to progress but, by finishing as runners-up, they will face Portugal in the last eight.
The Croats were jubilant, with Vedran Corluka praising coach Slaven Bilic. "For us he's just perfect,"he said. "The Chelsea fans had a nickname for [Jose] Mourinho, 'the Special One'. But for us Slaven Bilic is the special one. He gives us belief but he also makes us relaxed."Reuse content