When Germany lost Michael Ballack coming into this world cup, some commentators were writing them off, or at the very least not touting them as tournament favourites. Despite an excellent qualification campaign in a less than forgiving group Germany emerged without a loss and played with a freedom that went unnoticed. That is until Sunday night.
In their demolition of a very average Australia, Germany drew the spotlight and showed to the world why they should continue to be feared. A young team, only one player was over 30 in the team that lined up against Australia. Germany showed signs of fragility in defence but the young goalkeeper Neuer was equal to anything the Australians tried. After the sending off of Tim Cahill the match ended as a contest but continued as an exhibition of fine football from a young team. The shining star of the night was Mesut Özil.
Özil was the fulcrum of Germany’s team, his creativity has been unmatched in the tournament so far whilst his intelligent running created many opportunities. Those who knew German football (such as The Guardian’s Raphael Honigstein) had tipped Özil to be a force during this tournament. Still only 21, Özil has been playing elite football for a few years. Having been given his start at Schalke Özil proved a useful attacking midfielder, goals were not forthcoming during his 30 games for the club but he attracted the attention of other teams and moved to Werder Bremen in 2008. It was at Bremen that his career took off. Starting regularly for the team Ozil was a threat in most games and was not intimidated on the bigger occasions. He scored the winning goal in the German Cup final and in the summer that followed was the key player in Germany’s Under-21 championship winning team. He was soon called up to the national team but played second fiddle to Michael Ballack who played in the space between midfield and attack. The loss of Michael Ballack was a blow to Germany but it allowed Ozil to play in his best position rather than out on the left where he has to be more disciplined in his movement and distribution.
The game against Australia was an exceptional game but it will be the next few group games that will determine the extent of Özil’s ability. The defenders of Serbia and Ghana will now pay him particular attention and after his shameful diving so will the referee’s. Özil has shown class in European competition already and with the improved quality of players around him he cannot fall back on Sunday’s performance.
As a football writer it was good to get a positive performance to write about and not just the gaffes of Green, Cahill and Kuzmanovic. Özil’s man of the match performance was the highlight of the tournament so far and whilst he has been a household name in Germany for the last few seasons, it was not until Sunday night however that he became a global star.