While goalscoring is not normally his forte, Lars Bender is reputed for his industry for both club and country. However, after scoring his first international goal to give Germany a 2-1 win against Denmark on Sunday, the habitually tireless 23-year-old joked only the forbidding prospect of tracking back had led to him being in the right place at the right time in front of goal.
Having played as a central midfielder for club Bayer 04 Leverkusen throughout last season, Bender was given his first international start at right-back in place of the suspended Jérôme Boateng. Joachim Löw's derring-do paid off as Bender turned in a superb display to ensure Germany reached the quarter-finals with a 100% record in Group B. Bender defended stoutly throughout and offered a regular threat going forward, highlighted by the strike that clinched victory ten minutes from time.
"I saw the space in front of me and continued my run," Bender said. "I thought to myself, 'Lars, you really have to put this away, otherwise you'll have to run back some 80 metres'. I'm really pleased, but it's going to take some time to sink in."
The stand-in's dynamic showing was proof of the depth in Germany's squad. While many had been calling for the inclusion of Marco Reus, Mario Götze or André Schürrle, Löw's first change at UEFA EURO 2012 proved an enforced one. It was nevertheless something of a surprise that Bender was chosen to replace Boateng – particularly with some questioning his inclusion in the squad in the first place.
Indeed, with Lars' twin, Sven, having excelled for Borussia Dortmund in their title-winning campaign, it had even been suggested light-heartedly that Löw picked the wrong brother. "Even I wasn't sure he'd picked the right one," laughed Lars, whose appearance against the Danes was his ninth cap for his country. "The coach has shown faith in me – and now he knows he picked the right one!" The versatile tackler was quick to dismiss talk of any family quarrels, saying: "Sven and I are in daily contact. We always wish each other the best and are happy for the other's achievements."
Bender hopes to keep his place for the quarter-final with Greece, although Boateng will be available again. When asked what he offers that the FC Bayern München defender does not, he replied, "goals", before explaining in a more serious tone that he does not see his future at full-back.
"It was my first appearance in this position," Bender explained. "Compared to playing in midfield, it's even more important to be well-positioned because one metre can be the difference between playing the striker onside or not." Bender was also keen to make sure his coach at Leverkusen, Sami Hyypiä, did not get any ideas, saying: "I texted him straight away and told him he should bring in a new right-back if he is short in this area. I still see myself as a midfielder."
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