Westermann: We're strong favourites
It was a difficult summer for Germany defender Heiko Westermann, who could only watch on television as his national team stormed to third place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Having been all set to take part in the tournament, the 27-year-old had to pull out of the squad at short notice after breaking a bone in his foot at a pre-tournament training camps.
The 19-times-capped international, who was tipped to play an important role in coach Joachim Low's plans at South Africa 2010, instead used the time to make a major decision of his own. After managing to put the exploits of his international colleagues in the Rainbow Nation to the back of his mind, he decided the time had come to begin a new chapter in his club career. Following three seasons with Schalke, the Bavarian-born defender signed for Hamburg, the only team in the Bundesliga to have competed in every championship since the league's inception in 1963. And the reason for this change? Westermann was looking for stability.
"The most important thing for me is to be playing in one position consistently. In Hamburg I'll be a centre-back, my favourite position. At Schalke I had the feeling that I wouldn't get the chance to do that, and I didn't want to keep having to change positions, that's why I chose HSV," explained Westermann in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "With our team, we've got a great chance of competing at the top of the Bundesliga and making it into Europe."
The uncompromising yet cultured defender was often employed as a left-back by Schalke coach Felix Magath, sometimes even in defensive midfield. Indeed, his versatility had begun to prove a burden. In the national team, Westermann offers a quality alternative in several positions, but has struggled to make any of them his own, a task made all the more difficult by the solid performances in South Africa of Werder Bremen's Per Mertesacker and Wolfsburg new-boy Arne Friedrich. And yet Westermann, who has already been handed the captain's armband at Hamburg, remains optimistic about his chances of regaining a spot in Low's starting line up.
"I phoned him (Low) when I decided to join Hamburg to let him know about the move. He was very happy for me and saw it as a positive step," said Westermann. "I think it's important for me to play a whole season at centre-back. As for the national team, I can only prove my worth by performing week in, week out in the Bundesliga and showing that coach that I can benefit the team."
Westermann appears to have processed the disappointment of missing out on the FIFA World Cup and is now fighting fit with the Bundesliga already underway. In the first round of fixtures, the HSV skipper celebrated a 2-1 win over former employers Schalke and a return to the Germany setup for the first two UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Belgium and Azerbaijan in early September is now a distinct possibility.
Germany also face the likes of Turkey, Austria and Kazakhstan in their quest for a place at Poland/Ukraine 2012. And as the Hamburg skipper said himself at the conclusion of our interview, it is a challenge he is relishing: "There are no easy qualification groups any more. Obviously we're the strong favourites to qualify for the European Championships and we want to make that clear right away by starting confidently."