Such is the relaxed and good-natured atmosphere at Germany's hotel base outside Pretoria, it seems hard to believe Die Nationalmannschaft are on the verge of a decisive clash with Group D rivals Ghana at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium. Yet the casual mood should not disguise their determination, as FIFA.com discovered during an exclusive interview with 21-year-old Werder Bremen schemer Mesut Ozil.
"I'm a quiet guy, but I like to have a laugh – it's good for helping me focus on the next challenge," said the youngster of Turkish origin, who burst onto the scene at last year's UEFA European Under-21 Championship. "Up to now I'm satisfied with my performances at the World Cup, but I know I can do even better, and I want to show that against Ghana. I want to play perfectly and help us win the game."
The stakes could barely be higher for the three-time world champions on Wednesday evening, with only a win guaranteeing their place in the Round of 16. Up against the physically imposing west Africans, will the diminutive Ozil struggle to cope? "It's all the same to me whether my opponent is two metres tall or two metres wide, I'm not afraid of anybody," said the confident youngster, clearly steeped in the German camp's steely winning mentality. "We'll do the business when it matters, as we already showed in the qualifiers against Russia."
It's all the same to me whether my opponent is two metres tall or two metres wide, I'm not afraid of anybody.
Indeed, last October it was far from certain that the Joachim Low's charges would qualify automatically for the first FIFA World Cup™ on African soil, only to silence any doubters with a hard-fought 1-0 victory away to Russia – Ozil laying on the winner for Miroslav Klose. A player able to turn a match in the blink of an eye and undaunted by a vast stadium or capacity crowd, how does Ozil feel to be performing on the biggest stage of all? "It's fantastic to take part in the greatest sporting event in the world. And it's not about being the best player in the tournament, what I want is for our title dream to come true."
Set for the showdown
Ozil is all too aware that the dream could be shattered against Ghana. "That would be a bitter disappointment," said Ozil, whose team lie second in their section on three points, one behind the Black Stars and ahead of Serbia on goal difference. "We are better tactically, better organised and have a stronger defence [than Ghana]. We are a team who all play for each other. That's why I believe we'll do it."
A self-confessed admirer of France legend Zinedine Zidane, Ozil is revelling in the kind of free role in which Zizou once thrived. "Low gives me complete freedom in attack, which I enjoy and for which I'm very grateful," said the Bremen starlet, who would surely not be playing with such verve and confidence were it not for the faith of his coach. Nor he is the only Germany player enjoying himself at this tournament. Despite the disappointment of last Friday's 1-0 reverse against the Serbians, what price performers of the calibre of Ozil, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski sending Die Nationalelf soaring into the knockout stages?