Despite his family background, Germany midfielder Mesut Oezil feels no split loyalties as his team takes on Turkey. But not everyone believes his decision to play for Germany is proof of successful integration.
Germany was always the natural choice for him, said Oezil
Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil has declared he will have no qualms when Joachim Loew's men take on Turkey in Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier in Berlin.
While the 21-year-old Oezil speaks fluent Turkish and is proud of his family roots in the country, he will have only one thing in mind as the teams line up - a win for Germany.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Oezil explained that he had always wanted to wear the white shirt of the national side.
Oezil's outstanding World Cup displays made him a hot property
"It's not a decision against my Turkish roots but I'm from the third generation of my family born here in Germany. I grew up here and feel very comfortable," he said.
"For me there was no other country in question and it was never an issue for me. I am proud to be playing for Germany."
Anyone watching the build-up to the match, though, is unlikely to see the Real Madrid man singing the German national anthem. He explained; the reason is simple and pragmatic.
"While the anthem is playing, I’m always focusing on the game ahead."
A special game ahead
Dazzling performances at this summer's World Cup in South Africa earned Oezil a multi-million-euro transfer from Werder Bremen to Real Madrid. But the player told reporters that he was particularly relishing the Friday game, with 35,000 Turkey fans expected at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
"Of course this is a very special game for me," Oezil told reporters. "I am especially motivated. I look forward to it but the aim is to win this great game and take a step further in qualifiers."
Unsure of what his reaction would be if he scored against Turkey, Oezil said, "If I score a goal against Turkey I will react spontaneously."
Turkey have beaten Kazakhstan and Belgium in Group A, while Germany have beaten Belgium and Azerbaijan - leaving the two sides level. Oezil praised Turkey, in particular Dutch coach Guus Hiddink and Dortmund's Turkish midfielder Nuri Sahin.
They are technically gifted and strong as a team. They also have a very good coach in Guus Hiddink. Nuri is a class act, he has developed very well," said Oezil.
Germany's squad in South Africa featured 11 out of 23 players with at least some non-German ethnic roots.
Integration 'not a factor'
Hamit Altintop disagrees with Oezil - brother Halil is less critical
However, Turkey midfielder Hamit Altintop - a former teammate of Oezil at Schalke - dismissed the idea that the number of players with foreign backgrounds in the national side was a significant indicator of integration’s success or failure in German society.
Bayern player Altintop, who was also born in Germany, told the German daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday he disagreed with Oezil's decision, believing it to be more pragmatic - Germany offering Oezil greater opportunities - than emotional.
"Football is sometimes a matter of the heart, but more often it is a business decision. I am a tolerant man and I respect Mesut's way, but I don’t support what he did."
"It doesn't change the fact that I really like him. He is not just a friend, he is more like a brother."
Altintop's twin brother and Turkey teammate Halil, meanwhile, said he understood Oezil's decision to play for Germany rather than Turkey in an interview with SportBild.
"Unlike my brother and I, [Mesut] didn't come up through Turkey's youth national teams, so I don't think the connection was ever the same for him," said the Eintracht Frankfurt striker.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP/Reuters/dpa)
Editor: Matt Hermann