After highlighting Germany's "incredible potential in attack", Holger Badstuber described good defending as "the roadmap to success" ahead of his country's quarter-final meeting with Greece.
Joachim Löw's men took their place in Poland and Ukraine by storming through qualifying, winning all ten matches. The Nationalmannschaft have followed that with three successive victories to race into the last eight as the only team with a 100% record. Though goalscoring stars such as Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez have naturally been the focus of media attention, Badstuber is keen to highlight the importance of the role the back four have played in Germany's success.
"All the matches here have been very tight. You could see that with Spain [against Croatia] as well. You have to defend well to do well here. That is the roadmap to success," said Badstuber, who has contributed significantly in limiting opponents to just two goals in his team's three matches to date. "We have incredible potential in attack, but nevertheless, defence is the most important aspect at such a tournament."
Given the way they have performed so far, it is hard to believe the defence was a major cause for concern for coach Löw before the tournament. With Per Mertesacker barely having played in the closing months of the season, Löw had to decide whether to stay loyal to the Arsenal FC defender, a veteran of UEFA EURO 2008 and the last two FIFA World Cup campaigns, or opt for Mats Hummels, the platform for Borussia Dortmund's back-to-back Bundesliga titles. With Mertesacker still lacking match fitness, Hummels was reunited with Badstuber, then a midfielder when the pair played together for FC Bayern München's youth team.
"Mats and I, we both understand football and defending, things work out between the two of us.
Before the tournament, the defence had been made out as the weak link in our team and I think we have done nicely so far. Sure, we can improve, but that goes for the entire team," said Badstuber. "Per has had a difficult six months. He was injured and could not really play any games before the tournament. He is an important part of this squad and well-liked by everyone."
The only centre-back certain of his place in the starting XI in the finals was Badstuber. Since making his league debut in the 2009/10 season, the 23-year-old has established himself as first choice for club and country. "A year ago, I had a spell in which I wasn't so strong. This last season has helped me a lot. It was an important step forward for me," said the Bavarian-born defender, who played all ten matches as Bayern reached the UEFA Champions League final. "I have gained lots of international experience with Bayern, and have so far played 12 of 13 competitive fixtures for Germany. This shows that the coach trusts me and that's important."
That faith will no doubt be expressed again with Badstuber in Löw's starting lineup to face Greece, though the young centre-back acknowledged he may need the help of his attack-minded team-mates to break down their stoic opponents. "We have a certain confidence after our three wins, but it won't be an easy task. They are awkward opponents and have a very strong defence," he said. "They are a strong collective. They looked like they were out of the tournament and then beat Russia, a very strong side."
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