Having won the FIFA World Cup, Joachim Löw is a man with the pressure off his shoulders, says Steffen Potter, as he hears from the Germany coach ahead of facing France.
Winning the FIFA World Cup two summers ago has changed Joachim Löw.
Sure, he has always been a coach who asserted belief in his team's abilities (rightly so) and he never gave the appearance of being afraid of the next game. But now he has landed the global prize, one thing has become very clear: here is a man who has nothing to prove any more. He may still have a few doubters, but his confidence is striking.
Having nothing to prove means you can enjoy yourself and what is happening around you. And this is exactly what Löw is doing – he is relishing the big games after having endured near-misses at quite a few tournaments.
"I am looking forward to the Italy game," Löw had said before Saturday's quarter-final and it was no whistling in the dark. With the pressure off, the 56-year old has become a sucker for high-stakes matches.
His eyes glistening and his tongue licking his lips, Löw looked forward to Thursday's Marseille semi-final against hosts France: "It's great to have such games. Two teams going eye to eye. I just love knockout matches against these sides."
During the group stage and even after the round of 16 clash with Slovakia, it was evident that Löw's competitive instincts were not being fully satisfied.
"We played well," he maintained, but added: "With all due respect, now we will have opponents who will be more dangerous in attack, who will challenge us more." It is a challenge he was, and is, savouring.
Facing a hostile crowd at the Stade Vélodrome? "Super, when there is such an atmosphere!" No worries, then, about standing up to the hosts – after all, Germany have previous. "Almost the entire stadium will be against us. This energy, the entire country behind France.
"But in Brazil, a country of 200 million stood behind them and we were able to cope well. We will be able to cope well again."
In all fairness, it would be easy for him to make France favourites, given his injured and unavailable list. He declined that offer made by a German journalist. "It doesn't matter. When we go out there, it will be a game between two great sides", he insisted. And one he will enjoy.
- Löw's big matches
UEFA EURO 2008 semi-final, Turkey, W3-2
His first massive test as coach: not necessarily a good one for Germany but a hard-fought win in Basel nonetheless, thanks to Philipp Lahm's 90th-minute strike.
UEFA EURO 2008 final, Spain, L0-1
Germany were unable to prevent the start of an era of Spanish sovereignty after the Selección dominated the Vienna final following a nervy opening ten minutes.
2010 World Cup round of 16, England, W4-1
A high-profile knockout game in Bloemfontein that generated plenty of talking points as well as goals from a young counterattacking German side.
2010 World Cup quarter-final, Argentina, W4-0
Argentina arrived at the stadium in Cape Town singing and dancing on the team bus but would leave forlorn after being picked apart by Die Mannschaft.
2010 World Cup semi-final, Spain, L0-1
Once more, Germany failed to crack Spain at the height of their game, though curiously the Selección had to rely on a set piece to break the deadlock in Durban.
UEFA EURO 2012 group stage, Netherlands, W2-1
Not a knockout match but still a decisive fixture in Kharkiv given the tough make-up of the group: Löw's charges could have won bigger and Oranje went home early.
UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final, Italy, L1-2
Löw's masterplan of having Toni Kroos shadow Andrea Pirlo backfired in Warsaw; and individual mistakes helped determine the outcome in the Azzurri's favour.
2014 World Cup quarter-final, France, W1-0
Mats Hummels headed the early goal in Rio de Janeiro, after which Löw's men showed their maturity in controlling play to underline their status as potential winners.
2014 World Cup semi-final, Brazil, W7-1
The hosts crumbled under intense pressure and clever exploitation of their weaknesses by Löw, producing in Belo Horizonte one of the biggest shocks in soccer history.
2014 World Cup final, Argentina, W1-0aet
The showpiece fixture in Rio de Janeiro could have gone either way, yet was decided by a wonderful strike from Mario Götze as Löw and Co grabbed the biggest title of all.
UEFA EURO 2016 quarter-final, Italy, D1-1, W6-5 pens
And here in France: tactician supreme Löw mirrored Italy's back three in Bordeaux and ended his country's Azzurri hoodoo, albeit after a penalty shoot-out saga.