The final whistle went and Germany were stunned.
They had just lost to South Korea and their dream of retaining the World Cup lay shattered in the group stages like Siberian ice.
Mesut Ozil trudged across the pitch towards the tunnel and the German fans. As he approached both, a fan shouted out, “Ozil, verpiss Dich Du scheiss Turkensau. Turkenschwein hau ad”. “Ozil, f**k off you Turkish s**t, p**s off you Turkish pig”.
Ozil’s reaction made the sports pages, but then they’d been full of him during the entire World Cup, especially in Germany where the pundits couldn’t wait to criticise a player who has been named the Best German Player by the fans five times.
I covered it all during the competition, stemming as it did from Ozil’s ill-advised meeting with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ilkay Gundogan was there too, but he showed immediate contrition and, as such, was spared the press’s fury.
While most were focusing on the football being played on Russia, I was watching this story unfold. Ozil retiring from international football for as long as Grindel is in charge is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. His father had already publicly advised him to quit and, as you read in Ozil’s statement, his family are important to him.
During the competition, a number of dignitaries, including Germany’s Lothar Matthaus, posed for a photograph with Vladimir Putin. Ozil referenced this in his lengthy statement. At the time there was no outcry, or demand for an explanation from Matthaus.
Nobody said anything.
Just so we're clear, Putin OK, but Erdogan not? Asking for a bug-eyed friend… pic.twitter.com/sn9qvTAIBW
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) July 7, 2018
It seems there is an authoritarian hierarchy and some are OK to pose with, after all.
Chancellors and MPs got involved. Pundits across the country called for Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who was also present, to be dropped from the team. Gundogan spoke about his regret, but Mesut Ozil stayed silent.
The German press turned on him swiftly, calling him dispassionate, not interested in the national team even though his body language now is the same as when he helped craft Germany’s World Cup win just four years ago.
Others in the squad for Russia were significantly worse than Ozil, but he was the one that Lothar Matthaus said should not have been selected for the tournament in the first place.
What was refreshing about Ozil’s statement was how direct he was.
He held nothing back, nor should he have been expected to.
Yes, he is a footballer, but he is a human who suffers from the same sort of prejudices that affect so many millions around the world. He has the right to defend himself as strongly as he sees fit but, perhaps more importantly, he has a platform that allows him to speak for the many who find themselves voiceless and alone.
I’m often told that politics has no place in football but that is a ridiculous assertion. Politics is in everything and everything is politics.
As this world continues along its current path, politics will encroach even more on the game we all love and we have a choice. We can choose to grump that our entertainment is being ruined or admit that, sometimes, there are some things more important than football.
Not many, but some.
Mesut Ozil realises that.