Germany made a losing start to the World Cup, falling 1-0 to Mexico, and surprise, surprise – guess who was in the firing line? That’s right; our own Mesut Ozil seems to be the fall guy again.
As Arsenal fans, we’re used to Mesut being the scapegoat but he came in for fierce criticism following the Mexico defeat, most notably from former Germany captain Lothas Matthaus – a World Cup winner in 1990, of course.
In hs column for Bild, Matthaus let rip. ‘I often have the feeling that he does not feel comfortable in the DFB jersey,’ Matthaus wrote. ‘There is no heart, no joy, no passion.’
Matthaus continued: ‘For a year or two, Ozil has played much weaker and at a level that does not justify Jogi Low’s free ticket.’
Ouch! Strong words. But is that a fair assessment of Ozil’s performance against Mexico, and of his recent international performances in general?
We know Ozil has become an easy target. We’ve seen it countless times, playing for Arsenal. He’s usually singled out for stick, the first to be criticised if his team don’t win. For Arsenal, sometimes that’s justified, sometimes not. Like many flair players, he can have quieter games and performances when he’s less effective, and on those occasions, the critics pounce.
Ozil was poor against Mexico, but not the only German to struggle. He was off the pace – not a total shock given that he was struggling with a knee injury going into the game – but several of the Germany players looked caught out by the pace and vigour of the Mexicans. The centre-back pairing of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels had a difficult afternoon, Sami Khedira toiled badly, Thomas Muller was ineffective and even Toni Kroos had an off day. Collectively, Germany were bad all over and were stunned by Mexico’s front-foot-forward approach.
For coach Joachim Low, there are bigger issues than just the performance of Ozil. It’s rare for Germany to lose a competitive fixture, let alone the opening game of the World Cup (it last happened in 1982, against Algeria and the team later reached the final). Any team losing its first match of the tournament is up against it, straight away, playing catch up with other nations in its group and without any wriggle room, results wise, across the remaining two games.
Put it this way – Germany can’t slip up again. When Germany face Sweden they’ll do so knowing they really have to win. The Swedes have made a good start, with victory over South Korea putting them on three points. Mexico also have three points and, if they’re anywhere near the level they demonstrated against Germany, should see off South Korea without too much difficulty. That, then, would put Mexico on six points and firmly in control of the group.
So, it’s win or bust for Germany against Sweden. It will be fascinating to see how Low freshens up his team. The coach has remained loyal to Ozil, so there has to be a question mark over his inclusion in the starting X1. But a major factor in Low’s thinking will be how Sweden play. They won’t be like Mexico, who shocked the world champions with their pace, pressing and attacking aggression. Sweden will sit back and look to contain.
Ozil’s skills could prove valuable. He’s less likely to be overrun by speedy opponents, more likely to be given plenty of the ball and tasked with unpicking a resolute Sweden defence. Considering that, he probably won’t be among the changes Low makes. In fact, Bundesliga.com have included him in their probable line-up with Khedira, who laboured in midfield against Mexico, replaced by Ilkay Gundogan.
Don’t write Ozil off just yet – after all, he could still emerge as a star. He, along with several other German footballers, are included in the player of the tournament odds at William Hill so the stage is set for a comeback…