Nothing screams opportunity like an injury to a first-team player in the build-up to a World Cup. Had Jimmy Greaves not badly gashed his leg in 1966, we might never have heard of Geoff Hurst. Had Santiago Cañizares not dropped a bottle of aftershave on his foot in 2002, a 21-year-old Iker Casillas would have had to wait for his chance to shine at the World Cup. And if Michael Ballack had not been ruled out of Germany’s World Cup squad earlier this week, Sami Khedira would not be going into the tournament with the weight of his country’s expectations on his shoulders.
“It can be assumed that Khedira is the number one candidate for this position,” said Germany coach Joachim Löw shortly after Ballack’s unavailability had been confirmed last weekend. “He has a great deal of potential and is a player who has already been given a lot of responsibility at Stuttgart. He also shows that he has matured.”
Born in Germany to a Tunisian father and German mother, Khedira came through Stuttgart’s youth system, making his first-team debut in October 2006 and achieving more than most players manage in a lifetime by scoring the goal that secured the Bundesliga title in a 2-1 win against Energie Cottbus on the final day of his first season.
He captained Germany to a crushing 4-0 victory over England in the final of last summer’s Under-21 European Championship and finished Stuttgart’s last campaign with 33 games under his belt and three goals in all competitions. The 23-year-old has three German caps and came on as a substitute in their 1-0 defeat at home to Argentina in March, as well as starting the 3-0 friendly win over Malta earlier this month.
Like Ballack, Khedira can occupy both offensive and defensive roles in the centre of midfield. With Ballack sidelined, Torsten Frings out of the international picture and Simon Rolfes out, he is now the only person capable of occupying Germany’s midfield holding role alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger – particularly now that Christian Träsch has also succumbed to injury – but former Under-21 colleague Mezut Özil believes he’s up to the task.
“Sami can play in this defensive position, he has done it many times for his club and country,” said Özil earlier this week.
Khedira himself was in danger of missing the tournament through injury after damaging knee ligaments in a collision with Bayern Munich striker Miroslav Klose in mid-April that ruled him out for almost a month. Klose and Khedira will now travel to South Africa together and while the former has already made his mark at a World Cup, Germany’s chances of success this time around will depend heavily on Khedira’s capacity to adjust to his new responsibilities.