As the Germany women's team pursue a third successive world crown, the home crowds generally expect dynamic displays and a blitz of attacking football from their favourites. However, the hosts cannot afford to throw all caution to the wind, and that is where the likes of defender Saskia Bartusiak come in.
The 28-year-old rates as one of the most modest and publicity-shy members of manager Silvia Neid's squad. She still recalls showing up for a trial with FSV Frankfurt as a 14-year-old, and shrinking in awe as she was led from the dressing room to join the rest of the players by, as she herself puts it, “the famous Birgit Prinz".
Quiet when retiring away from the field of play, Bartusiak is a model of calm composure in the German defence. With 42 international appearances under her belt, she generally picks the right option in every situation. A fixture in Neid's backline for a long time now, Bartusiak will need all her skill and ability on Thursday evening when she takes to the field in her hometown of Frankfurt against the physically strong, counter-attacking Nigerians.
“Nigeria will try and get the ball forward accurately and at pace," Bartusiak said. “So we'll play high up the field, trying to stifle them before they get going. And if they do get a pass through, it's important we’re there as a back four, because we can't let the Nigerians settle and get their shots away. We simply have to keep it tight as a team, and break up the Nigerians’ play."
Focused on the present
At the other end of the field, Germany's attacking stars will go for goals against the African champions, based on the solid platform provided by Bartusiak and her fellow defenders. But who exactly is the boss at the back? “Every player has to take responsibility for herself," the FFC Frankfurt stalwart said. “It's not that we delegate one player to hand out the orders. In any case, it's hard to hear much in front of a 75,000 crowd. You've basically got to scream, or the others won't hear. But we've been together as a unit for so long now, we all know what we have to do."
Bartusiak is nothing if not a committed team player, and also one of the least susceptible to the growing euphoria and excited sense of expectation taking root across the host nation. She is the kind of character who will always restrict her focus to the next task and no further. “We're taking each game as it comes, because there's no way we're already dreaming of the semi-finals or final. The first job is to complete our group fixtures well, and then we'll take stock of the situation," she told FIFA.com with a hint of a smile, but with a note of seriousness in her voice.
Confidence and composure
Germany were forced to work hard for long spells in their 2-1 opening day victory over Canada, and Bartusiak knows she and her team-mates must improve against Nigeria. “I think we'll see a very different Germany. We'll play it our way from the start right through to the finish, and impose our authority on the match," she said. “That'll give us a good chance of taking another three points."
Bartusiak is utterly confident that the Germans will make it two wins out of two on Thursday, and her expression reflects the confidence coursing through Neid's squad. However, the defender has mastered the art of preventing healthy self-assurance tipping over into complacency or arrogance. As a senior member of the team, she has a responsibility to keep the younger players’ feet on the ground, a role she is clearly comfortable with. After all, these days the team is led out of the dressing room not only by the famous Birgit Prinz, but also the ultra-dependable Saskia Bartusiak.