At present it seems that nothing can stop Germany’s Benedikt Howedes from smiling, not even having to take a second consecutive drug test in the depths of Recife’s Arena Pernambuco. “It’s not a problem - it has its advantages actually,” laughs the full-back when FIFA.com asks him for an interview. “It helps me replenish the fluid I lost during the game quite quickly.”
The 26-year-old’s upbeat outlook is hardly surprising. Life could not be much better for the defender at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Prior to the tournament his selection as left-back was a fiercely debated topic, with many sceptics preferring the younger Erik Durm in place of Howedes, who was considered to be too immobile to handle more fleet-footed opponents.
Yet three games later it is clear that Howedes was the right choice, having played the full 90 minutes in each of Germany’s group games. “It’s perfectly normal for people to discuss it before a World Cup, after all it’s not my normal position,” Howedes said. “But the coach opted to field four good centre-backs and it’s worked out. Personally, I’ve done a good job in all three games so I don’t think there’s any room for criticism there.
“I really don’t mind where I play,” Howedes continued. “I’ve made no secret of the fact that my qualities are best suited to playing centre-back but if I’m more use to the team as a full-back, then I’m happy to be out on the pitch and help us be successful.”
In Germany’s second game, Howedes capped off a fine individual display by providing the assist for a historic goal. It was his headed flick-on from a corner that led to Miroslav Klose notching his 15th FIFA World Cup strike and equalling the record set by Brazil’s Ronaldo.
We’ve all got our sights set on the same objective
“I was happy for the team and that we’d equalised,” Howedes said. “It was a feeling of sheer joy. We’ve got a lot of big players who are dangerous when they go forward for corners and free-kicks. That time I got the assist and today [against USA] it was Per [Mertesacker]. It’s a good thing when the defence is able to contribute something to the attack as well.”
‘Not our best game’
Germany did not allow USA a single shot on target until deep into stoppage time after keeping the likes of Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones at arm’s length throughout. At the other end of the pitch it was Mertesacker’s powerful header that forced Tim Howard into a save he could only parry into the path of Thomas Muller, who hit his fourth goal of the tournament. “Maybe it wasn’t our best game but we’re in the last 16 and that’s the most important thing,” Howedes said.
Howedes used to be more involved going forward, having started his career in defensive midfield before being converted first into a right-back and then into a left-back. Indeed, it is exactly the opposite route taken by team captain Philipp Lahm.
“Is that right? Howedes said, when FIFA.com informed him. “I’d never looked at it like that. But it doesn’t actually matter at all. I play wherever I’m needed,” he said with a shrug.
One country, one team, one dream
Having come through the youth ranks at Bundesliga side Schalke, Howedes is now captain of the Royal Blues and is a modern defender who is able to open up the game with passes from deep. However, in the national team he is happy to accept a subordinate role. “There are so many experienced players here and all of them shoulder some responsibility," he said. "I do too, although in a different way to at Schalke. We’ve all got our sights set on the same objective.”
That aim is to take to the field at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium on 13 July. “When the national anthem plays I close my eyes, listen and just enjoy the moment,” Howedes said. Ideally he and his colleagues would like to experience that sensation another four times in order to honour the motto written on the side of the team bus: ‘Ein Land, eine Mannschaft, ein Traum’ (One country, one team, one dream).
Before Howedes boards that very bus and takes off into the Recife night, a member of Germany’s backroom staff offers him a drink. He declines with a smile and a friendly pat on the back, saying: “I’ve already had more than enough.”