Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil promises to step out of the shadows against Andrea Pirlo's Italy in Euro 2012 semi-final
Playmaker will always put Germany first but semi-final brings chance to state his case
Tuesday 26 June 2012
It is, as Arsène Wenger might say, "money time". For all the intrigue of the group stages, it is generally from the quarter-finals on that the players who define tournaments properly take command.
Consider how, in the last quarter-final, Andrea Pirlo obliterated Steven Gerrard's claims to be considered among the best midfielders in the competition. The Italian and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal have been the most eye-catching players of Euro 2012.
But there can be no denying that Mesut Ozil has been just as influential. The performance level of the German No 8 escalated again in the quarter-final against Greece. Not only did he epitomise the team with his lightning runs between the lines, he generally ran the show. He has directly assisted a third of Germany's nine goals.
The fact that Ozil has not scored, though, isn't the only difference between himself and Pirlo and Ronaldo. Ozil does not have anywhere near the same cult of personality around him. Ozil, however, has come to define Germany's tournament. He drives them from within, in an understated but overwhelming manner. He sums up the true sense of the collective that exists around Germany.
"The team supported me excellently on the pitch against Greece so I could really deliver," Ozil said. "I was immensely happy to show what I can do at last. Being voted man of the match is a side issue. We just have to function as a team. That's the key."
When Ozil was asked if he was "Germany's Pirlo", the playmaker sidestepped the question.
"It's not Ozil against Italy," he said, of the semi-final. "It's Germany against Italy. Everyone works hard for each other and if we show what we can do, Italy will have a hard time. Italy have probably been the surprise package of the tournament. Even against the world champions, [Spain] they had a very good performance. They are where they belong. They are very strong, superbly organised... but if we play to our full potential we will come out winners."
Germany radiate confidence, but there is a respectful realism about them. As Ozil says: "We have the right self-confidence.
"I think we have matured both as players and human beings. We are a very young team with lots of hungry players coming through. We have won four of four games and most nations we play have huge respect for us. In the game against Greece, we showed our true colours as far as attacking football is concerned and we were the best attacking side. We've also shown we can hold our own against big football nations."
Are Germany ready to beat the biggest football nation, Spain? And does Ozil agree with recent arguments that Germany are now much better to watch than the world champions?
"Spain are obviously the favourites," he said. "They dominated against the French. But I don't want to say more about that. The Italy game is the next step and that's all we're focusing on."
Ozil allowed himself one moment of individualist indulgence.
"Generally, I'm content with my performances so far," he said. "I will demonstrate against Italy that I can put my foot on the accelerator."
Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.
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