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Germany's Khedira has gone from backup to bulwark

As a defensive stopper, Sami Khedira doesn't post the sort of numbers that leap out at you from score sheets. But more than any other Germany squad member, he's elevated his game to a whole new level.

Germany's Sami Khedira

Sami Khedira was Germany's heart and soul against Turkey

If you had asked Sami Khedira six months ago to describe his role in the German national team, he probably would have said he was just happy to be a part of it.

Fast forward to October 8, 2010, and with Bastian Schweinsteiger sidelined with injury, Khedira was responsible for holding together Germany's defensive midfield in an important Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey.

Khedira got his big break after German superstar Michael Ballack was hurt shortly before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And he's made the most of it. Ballack, as Germany coach Joachim Loew has repeatedly made clear, will have to prove his superiority to regain his former status in the team.

The coach is full of praise for Khedira.

"Thus far, he's done his job excellently," Loew said ahead of the Turkey match. "Sami is the midfield player who bears the most responsibility, and I'm absolutely satisfied with him."

As if that weren't enough, Khedira also made the jump from Stuttgart to Real Madrid on the back of a fine World Cup. Many observers predicted he'd land straight on the bench, but Real coach Jose Morinho has been just as impressed as Loew.

"I've been playing regularly at Real, mostly over the full ninety minutes," the 23-year-old told reporters before playing against the Turks. "And I've been happy with my performances in the Spanish championship and the Champions League."

In fact, despite initial skepticism about his abilities in the Spanish media, Khedira has played in all of Real's matches in those competitions. And the fact that he soft-pedals his own success is probably part of that side of his character which so appeals to coaches.

The young veteran

Khedira and Oezil practicing for Real Madrid

Khedira made the move to Madrid this summer together with Mesut Oezil

Some Germany fans and commentators were concerned about how their team would fare against Turkey - on paper their toughest Group A opponents - without on-the-field leader Schweinsteiger.

As it turned out, they were fine. Turkey had two decent chances but were otherwise frustrated by the iron curtain thrown up by Khedira and fellow stopper Toni Kroos.

Khedira led by example -- and that's not by accident.

"I'm not a player who goes around talking big," Khedira said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "I'm not a mouthpiece for the team in the sense of someone who gets loud in the changing rooms or anything like that. I think you have to demonstrate leadership on the pitch. You can talk as much as you want, but the truth is on the pitch."

Khedira is known for his direct, reliable game, which forgoes tricks on the ball for physical presence and a knack for good positional play. Those attributes once led the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper to dub him the "world's youngest veteran."

The new breed

Khedira is part of a new generation of Germany stars who come from mixed ethnic and cultural heritage. His father is Tunisian, while his mother is German.

Germany's Sami Khedira scores his side's third goal during the World Cup third-place soccer match

Khedira doesn't score many but his goals have been big ones

But unlike many of peers, Khedira never had any doubts about which national side he wanted to play for.

"To be honest it was never an issue because I was born in Germany and grew up here," Khedira told Deutsche Welle. "I was a part of all the German national youth teams, from the Under 15s on up. I was trained by German football coaches, and I think Germany is where I feel at home."

Khedira has made a habit of repaying trust invested in him. On October 29, 2006, at the age of 19, he made his professional debut in the Bundesliga. Less than seven months later, he secured the league title for his club Stuttgart with a crucial game-winning header.

Likewise, he made his debut in the German national team under Loew in September 2009. Ten months down the line, he scored the decisive goal in Germany's match for third place in the World Cup against Uruguay.

But scoring goals isn't Khedira's main task. As long as he anchors the defensive midfield with the skill and calm he displayed against Turkey, Joachim Loew probably wouldn't complain if he never found the net again for the Nationalelf.

And that's going to make it difficult for anyone, including Michael Ballack, to supplant him in Germany's starting eleven in the near future.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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