The first person most people think of when asked about the left side of Germany's defence is Philipp Lahm. The diminutive full-back's tenacious and energetic style has become synonymous with the three-time world champions, though national team coach Joachim Low does have a more than capable alternative for the increasingly important position in the form of Dennis Aogo.
Set to turn 25 on January 14, this son of a Nigerian father and a German mother has been one of Hamburg's most consistent performers over the past few seasons. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, the Karlsruhe-born defender appeared in the match for third place against Uruguay (3-2) and boasts nine international caps in all.
Aogo is typical of a new generation of German talent which blends individual class with traditional values like discipline and determination. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship winner discussed his role as Lahm's replacement, his UEFA EURO 2012 dream and his Nigerian heritage.
FIFA.com: You were given a starting berth in each of Germany's last two friendly matches. How would you describe the team's new philosophy?
Dennis Aogo: It's nothing new really. We've been playing at a very high level for a long time now. We've developed in all departments since the 2006 World Cup. It isn't something which occurs overnight, but rather a process which takes many years. The national coach was determined to take the team to the top of the international game and I think he's managed that. Several players have made the jump to top European clubs and the experience they're gathering there has helped the entire team. The level we're currently performing at is a consequence of that.
What's it like being a backup to captain Philipp Lahm?
Obviously it's not ideal. I know it's not going to be easy for me to dislodge Philipp and get into the team, but it's still my goal to impress the coach and make sure he takes me to EURO 2012.
You certainly showed you can cover for Lahm against the Netherlands. Do you think you can provide serious competition in the long term?
Philipp has delivered consistently good performances over many years and earned himself a glowing reputation. He's been playing regularly in the Champions League for years and also been very successful at major international tournaments, so he has a lot more experience at that level than I do. Still, you should never say 'never' and I'll be doing my best to prove the coach that I'm an ample replacement.
What do you make of Germany's EURO 2012 group?
I think we're in the strongest group. Portugal and the Netherlands have a lot of potential and a huge amount of individual quality. They have players in their ranks who can decide a game on their own, so it's going to be tough, but not impossible. The DFB is determined to finally win another title and to do that you have to beat the big teams.
Can Germany become European champions?
On the basis of our recent performances, the title is certainly a realistic target. If we can get through the group, we'll have already knocked out one, if not two big teams, and that could be to our advantage. Even so, I still think Spain are the clear favourites and I can't see that changing. They have to be favourites based on their quality. You can only hope that after all the success of the past few years their players aren't quite as hungry.
One of your team-mates at Hamburg, Jeffrey Bruma, could be one of your adversaries when Germany face the Netherlands in Ukraine in June. Has the banter in the dressing room already begun?
I think that after his game here in Hamburg [Editor's note: Germany beat the Netherlands 3-0], Jeffrey has plenty of respect for the German national team (laughs). However, things are very different at a tournament. We shouldn't take the friendly match too seriously. We all get a clean slate at the EUROs and we'll have to see who the best team is there.
Has the role of the left-back changed in recent years? What characterises the modern full-back?
Yes, I think the position has changed over the years. The position of full-back is one of the most demanding in my view as it encompasses a number of different roles. Not only must you keep it tight at the back, you also have to get forward and create goals. The modern full-back also plays a major part in build-up play. It's become a very important position.
You have Nigerian roots. How would you describe your relationship with your father's homeland?
Of course I'm aware of where my roots lie. I've been to Nigeria and visited my family. I still have a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles there. We've always had ties with Nigeria, but to be honest I had a pretty German upbringing. I can't say I'm overly familiar with the culture there, but I have learned the odd thing or two being brought up my father.