SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Coach Joachim Loew left Germany’s all-time leading scorer on the bench in the World Cup opener against Portugal and it proved to be the right move.
Loew raised some eyebrows in Germany when he decided to call up only one classic striker into his squad, the country’s top-scoring Miroslav Klose.
But Loew’s decision to put his faith in Thomas Mueller paid dividends on Monday, when the attacking midfielder scored his first hat trick for Germany in a 4-0 romp over Portugal in their Group G opener.
“He is such an unorthodox player, as a coach you never know what he is about to do,” Loew said. “For opponents, he is very unpredictable, he only has one thought on his mind and that is to score a goal.”
Klose has surpassed legendary Gerd Mueller with 69 goals for Germany and needs one more in the World Cup to tie the record of 15 held by Brazil’s Ronaldo.
But even such credentials were not enough to get the 36-year-old Klose a spot in the starting lineup.
Loew has been favoring a “false nine” system, with attacking midfielders swapping positions and passes to break clear of the defenders.
It worked like a dream against Portugal.
Mario Goetze and Mesut Ozil created chances but failed to score themselves. Mueller, however, pounced on every opportunity.
He converted a 12th-minute penalty – earned by Goetze – then stripped Bruno Alves of the ball to score his second and Germany’s third just before halftime that all but put the game away.
In between, Mats Hummels headed in off a corner and Portugal’s defender Pepe was sent off, for an altercation with Mueller.
Mueller said he had no qualms about taking the penalty.
“I’ve been in some big matches and it’s not like I get afraid,” Mueller said.
Loew said he also valued Mueller not only for his scoring.
“He ran a lot and tied Pepe and Bruno Alves (Portugal’s two defenders), who had to stay behind and could not go forward. That allowed Goetze and Ozil to look for space. That was planned,” Loew said.
Loew’s plan was to “win the ball in midfield and quickly attack” and the coach said the players executed it well.
By choosing to play without a true striker, Loew may have increased the efficiency of his team.
Loew lost another option when Marco Reus was injured just before the World Cup.
Still, if the team keeps playing like this, Klose may not get the chance to equal Ronaldo’s record.