The match stats from Germany’s 2010 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final victory over Argentina confirmed Bastian Schweinsteiger’s emergence as the pivotal figure in the three-time world champions’ exciting young team. The midfielder played the most passes and covered the greatest distance of all the players on display, and he was also named Budweiser Man of the Match.
Schweinsteiger has blossomed on South African soil, imposing his authority on the centre of the park and orchestrating his team’s play in truly impressive fashion. The player is now determined to maintain his stellar form in the semi-finals, a replay of the UEFA EURO 2008 title decider against Spain, and lead his men through to the Final in Johannesburg. On the eve of the eagerly-awaited showdown, FIFA.com spoke to Schweinsteiger about Wednesday’s clash in Durban, his new role in central midfield, and the mood in the Germany camp.
FIFA.com: Germany comprehensively outplayed both England and Argentina, and can now claim to be one of the four best teams in the world. What’s the mood in the German camp right now?
Bastian Schweinsteiger: As you’d expect, it’s excellent at the moment, and we’re all looking forward to the semi-final.
How would you assess the way this team, Germany’s youngest at the FIFA World Cup in 76 years, has developed?
We’re carefree and bursting with flair. But we also have players who know how to calm things down and keep the ball under control. We keep playing the way we like to play right through to the last minute. We’re not satisfied just because we might be 2-0 or 3-0 up. We keep moving forward and look to get our shots away. Mind you, I don’t think anyone expected it to go quite as well as it has. In terms of footballing quality, this is the best Germany team I’ve ever played in.
I think the victories over England and also Ghana gave us a great deal of confidence. We went into the Ghana game knowing that if we lost, we were out. We played well against Australia, but our organisation wasn’t that good at times. We were much more disciplined and compact against England, and up front, we have players who are putting away their chances.
What role has Joachim Low played so far?
The coach is the undisputed boss. He and his team have prepared us superbly for every game. For example, against Argentina, we knew we could only let them play their passes up to a certain point. From there on, we were aggressive, we went looking for the ball, and then passed as quickly as possible to our front men. These tactics have brought us tremendous success twice now.
You played the whole of the 1-0 defeat to Spain in the EURO 2008 final. How do you feel abut the chance for revenge?
It obviously goes through your mind. Spain were much better than us back then, we can have no complaints. We had the chance to win a trophy, so you’re doubly angry when you’ve missed that chance. We weren’t at 100 per cent in that match, but now we have to focus on winning, knowing it would take us into the World Cup Final. Every player needs to take that to heart. It should be obvious to everyone watching that every single player wants a place in the Final.
How can you stop Spain’s world-class attacking unit, with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and David Villa?
I think we’ve changed a lot since 2008. We play completely different football, but Spain have stayed practically the same. They’ve maybe not played the fantastic stuff people were expecting from them here, but they’re winning their matches. Great teams win even when they’re not playing well. That's what makes Spain so dangerous.
We’re up against the best team in the world, in my opinion. But even the Spanish have weaknesses, and that's what we have to exploit. We’ve beaten England and Argentina, and if every one of us is 100 per cent up for it, we can beat Spain too.
A wave of euphoria has swept the Germany team, and the German nation too. But you’ve won nothing yet…
Actually, I think we have won something already, which is admiration and sympathy in Germany. My goal has always been to please the fans at home, and especially the people at fan festivals. The pictures we’re seeing are unbelievable. But obviously you’re right, we’ve won nothing at all in sporting terms.
The team has come on enormously, but so have you personally. You were a wide attacking player, but now you’re a holding midfield strategist. Are you pleased about that?
I hadn’t expected it to go quite as well as this, but I always knew this was my best position. Maybe I could have made the switch two or three years ago, but there were a lot of good players ahead of me in the position at Bayern, Owen Hargreaves or Jens Jeremies for example.
The fans and the pundits reckon your performance against Argentina was your best ever. Do you agree?
I can only play well if the team plays well. That's the most important thing to me. As for me personally, I’ve never given a perfect performance. There were situations against Argentina where I could have done better. And I’ve done well in internationals before, at the World Cup in 2006 against Portugal for one. I’m always trying for the perfect performance. That's what motivates me. And my goal is to win trophies. That's why I refuse to be satisfied with what we’ve achieved so far, and why I want to beat Spain. You don’t come this close to trophies very often. We have a chance, but I have enormous respect for Spain.
The loss of captain Michael Ballack to injury was a massive blow in the build-up to the FIFA World Cup, but you don’t appear to miss him now…
On the one hand, it's a desperate shame he’s injured, especially because he has so much experience. We could have done with that here at the World Cup. But on the other hand, it's obviously terrific to see the other players do well in his absence. Michael Ballack will be back, and I think he’ll make us even stronger, simply because of his experience.
In a recent interview, you revealed you actually have Dutch roots: your great-grandfather was from the Netherlands. Are you fond of the Oranje?
Yes, but that’s always been the case. I was a big fan of Marco van Basten. The Netherlands is only a small country, but they keep producing great players. I see it every day at Bayern. They’re aiming at perfection, and they reflect a lot on situations which arise in matches, which I like and appreciate. The Dutch have two Bayern players here at the World Cup, Mark [van Bommel] and Arjen [Robben]. Obviously, I’m hoping they make it to the Final, and hopefully we’ll have the dream pairing of Germany against Holland. I’d really like that and it would be wonderful, but we have a very tough task first with Spain.
Have you been in touch with your Dutch club-mates?
We’ve been in contact throughout the World Cup. After their brilliant trick corner routine against Brazil (Editor's note: Robben gave the ball a slight prod and jogged away, pretending not to have taken the corner. But Dani Alves spotted the ruse and beat Van Bommel to the ball), I texted them my congratulations, because they’re always talking about it at Bayern. I thought it was hilarious, and I told them so.
A slightly odd question to round things off: Paul the octopus, a resident of the Sea Life aquatic park in Oberhausen, has been predicting the results of Germany’s games at the FIFA World Cup. Confronted with two glasses containing the national flags of the countries concerned, he picks food out of the one he foresees as the winners. And he’s been right for all five of your matches so far…
Yes, we’ve been following the octopus here in South Africa. I personally think it’s really amusing. I hope he gets it right and chooses us again this time.