By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, July 5 (Reuters) - Set pieces have helped propel Germany into the semi-final of the World Cup, dispelling any doubts coach Joachim Loew had about the value of time spent practising deadball situations.
Loew admitted before the tournament that he was sceptical about the value of spending a lot of time practicing set pieces but has evidently changed his mind after the success so far.
Several players said Germany are now training for deadball situations more rigorously before every match - and being given the freedom to come up with their own creative ideas.
"We've been training set pieces a lot here and we've put more emphasis on them than at previous tournaments," said Mats Hummels, whose header in the 13th minute off a Toni Kroos free kick led Germany to a 1-0 quarter-finals win against France.
Germany's 10 goals at the World Cup so far have included two from corner kicks, one from a free kick and one penalty.
Loew admitted last week to reporters that he lost a running bet for a dinner - whether Germany would score at least one deadball goal in Brazil - to assistant coach Hansi Flick, who is a strong believer in the opportunities that set pieces present.
"The players like training deadball situations," Loew was quoted telling German TV on Saturday. "We're taking the time to train them now."
"It's an important aspect," he said. "Set pieces have a lot of weight for us."
With a towering back four - Loew has stacked his defence with four tall centre-backs who are all good in the air - Germany have a considerable height advantage: Per Mertesacker (1.98 meters), Hummels (1.92), Jerome Boateng (1.92) and Benedikt Hoewedes (1.87) have crowded the area on set pieces.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Germany scored three goals off "Standardsituationen" - as the Germans call them - en route to taking third place after losing to Spain in the semi-finals. Germany scored just one set piece at Euro2012, where they lost in the semi-finals to Italy.
It is not that Loew had a disdain for set pieces before the World Cup. It is more the case, he said at a news conference here just before the tournament began, that he didn't feel he had enough time to focus on them as much as clubs.
"We've worked on 'Standardsituationen' in the past but not as extensively as club trainers can," Loew said, noting the clubs have more time together and can devote 30 or more training sessions each year to deadball situations.
Not every trick kick the Germans have devised has worked out. Against Algeria Thomas Mueller pretended to stumble while running towards the ball - a play that fooled no one - and ended up making Mueller and his teammates look foolish themselves.
"It's good that we've been training set-pieces," said Kroos, whose splendid corner kick against Portugal also set up Hummels for a header with the first of Germany's four goals in their 4-0 win. Mueller scored a penalty against Portugal for the first.
Miroslav Klose, who scored the equaliser for Germany in their 2-2 draw against Ghana in a group match by tapping in a deflected corner from Kroos, said a lot of creative effort from the players was being channelled into the set piece strategies.
"We players are bringing in a lot of ideas ourselves for set-pieces," he said. (Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum, Editing by Nigel Hunt)