By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, June 24 (Reuters) - Doubts about the wisdom of starting captain Philipp Lahm as a central midfielder after he excelled in the last two World Cups as a defender for Germany have gained momentum after the 30-year-old failed to shine in their first two matches.
Even though Germany has a shortage of defenders and a surfeit of outstanding midfielders, coach Joachim Loew has insisted that he will keep Lahm as a holding midfielder against the United States in their Group G showdown match on Thursday.
German players and coaches are confronted with the "Lahm question" - raging in Germany - every day at press conferences at their isolated camp on the Atlantic coast near Porto Seguro.
One of Lahm's errant second-half passes in Germany's match on Saturday gifted Ghana their second goal and an ephemeral 2-1 lead before Miroslav Klose got the equalizer in a 2-2 draw.
"He made a couple of bad passes but those things just happen," said Loew's assistant Hansi Flick when asked why Lahm doesn't return to the right back position he filled so well at the 2010 World Cup and where he has spent much of his celebrated career at Bayern Munich. He has 108 caps for Germany.
"We see Philipp as a midfielder," added Flick, eager to put an end to the discussion by saying it was "not an option" to move Lahm to right back. "He gives us good balance there. That's our plan and we'll continue that way because we have a clear plan and we aren't going to let anyone distract us."
ONE OF WORLD'S BEST DEFENDERS
Even though he is just 1.70 metres tall, Lahm was a speedy, offensive-minded left back at the 2006 World Cup and scored one of Germany's most spectacular goals - a beautiful long range blast in their win over Costa Rica in the tournament's opener.
Lahm was once again a dynamo as right back in the 2010 World Cup, leading Germany to third place. But in Brazil he is now playing the holding midfielder position, getting mediocre to poor reviews from the German media and fans, while other standout midfielders such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Andre Schuerrle are left on the bench.
Former Germany captain Oliver Kahn, one of many pundits commenting on Lahm, agreed he is an outstanding defender. But he said injuries that left Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira out until just before the World Cup had forced Loew's hand.
"In my mind, Lahm is one of the world's best right backs," Kahn said on ZDF TV. "He always played fantastically there."
Germany defender Mats Hummels told reporters in Santo Andre that Lahm is good in both positions. "Sure, we're aware of the discussion (in Germany) about it and we've talked about it."
"But internally we haven't discussed what is our preferred position for Phillip. There's no reason to start questioning everything. It doesn't matter to me where he plays."
As a midfielder for Bayern last year Lahm scored just one goal with two assists in 28 appearances while as a defender for Bayern he had five assists in the 14 matches he played there.
Thomas Mueller, also Lahm's teammate at Bayern, said Loew made up his mind and there is reason to discuss it any further.
"Why's it being discussed in the media?" he said. "The coaches made a clear decision, they've articulated themselves about that already. In plain German that means that they made their comments and so that's the end of the story." (Editing by Nigel Hunt)