In the wake of Germany’s 1-0 quarter-final triumph over France at the iconic Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the victors could not stop smiling. Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski were the ringleaders of the German celebrations, laughing and joking both with their team’s backroom staff and journalists after the final whistle. Yet even among such joyous scenes there was one man who beamed brighter than most: Mats Hummels.

The 25-year-old headed in the winner after 13 minutes, cleared the danger when Karim Benzema appeared to be on the verge of hitting an equaliser 22 minutes later and was an unsurpassable rock at the heart the defence throughout. It came as no surprise when he was named as the Budweiser Man of the Match after such a vital contribution to Germany setting a new record in reaching a fourth successive FIFA World Cup™ semi-final.

Low leads the plaudits
“Mats was sensational today,” Germany coach Joachim Low told FIFA.com. “The way he goes into tackles and wins them and the way he’s always in the right place is hugely impressive. On top of that he scored and he’s always a threat at set-pieces too.” Low is well aware that a strong defensive display, particularly that of his No5, was pivotal to the hard-fought but deserved victory over France.

“For the goal, Toni Kroos put in a good cross and I was in the right place at the right time,” Hummels said afterwards. “We defended well and with passion. We need more of that in our next games.” His words came across as more than the usual post-match platitudes; instead, the 33-time international had the confident air of a player eager to shoulder responsibility and exert his influence on the side.

Hummels is more than capable of doing so too. A pillar of the Borussia Dortmund defence, the centre-back earned widespread respect across Europe after his extraordinary displays at UEFA EURO 2012, where he finished the group stage with the second-highest percentage of tackles won of any player at the tournament, and did so without committing a single foul. At Brazil 2014 the towering defender has gone on to become a true leader in the Germany side.

We’ve got several leaders in this team but Mats has developed amazingly well and is definitely considered one of those players now.

Germany defender Benedikt Howedes on fellow centre-back Mats Hummels

“He’s unbelievably important for us here,” said Roman Weidenfeller, a long-term team-mate of Hummels at Dortmund and Germany’s second-choice goalkeeper in Brazil behind Manuel Neuer. “He’s so professional in every situation and he always says what he thinks. He’s developing into a leader more and more and when you think that he’s now scored twice for us here in Brazil [Hummels was also on target in Germany’s 4-0 win over Portugal], that has helped him become increasingly important,” the 33-year-old said in an interview with FIFA.com.

Considering the side is already spearheaded by a strong Bayern Munich contingent including captain Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Muller and Neuer, who was once again outstanding against Les Bleus, Hummels’ growing standing within the three-time World Cup winners’ squad is not to be underestimated.

Even Benedikt Howedes, captain of Dortmund’s arch-rivals Schalke, was effusive in his praise, exclusively telling FIFA.com: “We’ve got several leaders in this team but Mats has developed amazingly well and is definitely considered one of those players now.”

Springboard to the title?
Having long been compared to Franz Beckenbauer due to his on-pitch elegance, Hummels can justifiably claim to be one of the world’s elite defenders. A model athlete who is also renowned for his eye-catching beard, Hummels is equally influential away from the field where his measured words carry a great authority in the squad.

Against such a backdrop, the team’s chances of success at the World Cup are even more promising, especially as Germany historically tend to improve as a tournament progresses, spurred on to greatness by a group of select individuals.