By Erik Kirschbaum
June 26 (Reuters) - With little of the style, pizzazz and attacking courage that has been their trademark for the last decade, Germany reverted to a colourless, old-fashioned, result-oriented soccer of yesteryear on Thursday to beat an unexpectedly dangerous U.S. team.
Their solid if unspectacular 1-0 victory over the Americans and their erstwhile mentor Juergen Klinsmann was good enough to win Group G with seven of the nine available points.
The uninspired performance, however, raised doubts whether Germany are capable of going all the way to the final for the first time since 2002 or even to the semi-finals, a stage they have reached in the last three World Cups and six of the last eight.
Germany were sharper against the United States than they were in the sloppy 2-2 draw against Ghana - a widely criticised mediocre effort in the tournament's second match where they traditionally struggle.
Assured of a spot in the second round even with a draw on Thursday, Germany still needed to beat the United States to clinch the group's top spot.
With a draw enough for both sides to reach the last 16, the Germans also had a point to prove.
They needed to banish the ghosts of the infamous 1982 World Cup group stage match where West Germany and Austria appeared to collude to play for a 1-0 German win that sent both teams through at the expense of Algeria.
Three-times World Cup winners Germany, widely regarded as a superpower at home, also desperately wanted to avert an upset defeat to Klinsmann's upstart Americans - seen as a developing soccer nation by Germans.
They might have chuckled smugly about the United States before the World Cup began but after seeing the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 in the opener and nearly beat Portugal in a riveting 2-2 draw, the Germans knew they would be in for a fight in Recife.
So instead of racing down the pitch in wave after wave of attack as Germany have done so often and entertainingly ever since Klinsmann coached them from 2004 to 2006, Loew ordered his men to slow down, control the game and play for a result.
Especially so after Thomas Mueller got his fourth goal of the tournament - and his ninth World Cup goal in nine World Cup matches going back to 2010 - Germany shifted down a gear on the pitch made soggy by torrential rainfall.
It was odd to see the usually attack-minded Germany sit back on a slender lead for the final 35 minutes - partly a reflection of the group standings but also one of the newfound respect they developed for Klinsmann's competitive outfit.
"We knew it would be a difficult match today and we were ready for that," said Loew.
In the end it was a result that either side could live with as they both advanced into the knockout stage.
Germany showed three different faces in their three group matches: attacking flair against Portugal, unimaginative and careless play against Ghana and finally a cautious but pragmatic approach against the United States.
One must wonder which face Loew's enigmatic Germany will show next. (Editing by Zoran Milosavljevic)