Towering Germany centre-back Per Mertesacker is determined to ensure that his second appearance in a national-team semi-final is more successful than the first.
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Germany centre-back Per Mertesacker is eager to ensure his second appearance in a national-team semi-final is a successful one. Joachim Löw's side must navigate a potentially hazardous last-four encounter with a Turkey team whose resilience has become their trademark at UEFA EURO 2008™.
"I have now played 47 internationals and the match on Wednesday will be my second appearance in the semi-finals of a major tournament," the 23-year-old Werder Bremen defender said. "Unfortunately, we were defeated by Italy at this stage in the 2006 [FIFA] World Cup. But this time, I definitely want to reach the final. And as part of the defence, I can play a very important role in that. I want my performance on Wednesday to justify my place in the starting eleven."
Germany's back line has come under intense scrutiny in these finals, from public and media alike. Mertesacker's centre-half partner Christoph Metzelder spent most of the season on the treatment table at Real Madrid CF, while goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has only been involved sporadically at club level in the last eight months. Mertesacker, though, has been impressed by how his colleagues have mostly defied their detractors. And while appreciating there is still room for improvement, the towering stopper believes the defensive unit is only getting stronger. "We always have to prove ourselves," Mertesacker said. "There was a lot of discussion [before the finals] as to whether or not the defence was strong enough. Would the injured players struggle? Who would play in goal? But that is history. Not everything is perfect yet, but we have gelled well and are improving with each game. That's clear."
Just like everyone else in the Mannschaft, the 196cm aerial specialist is also hoping for the return of Bremen team-mate Torsten Frings – doubtful because of a broken rib – for the semi-finals. "For much of the season we [Bremen] waited for Torsten after he suffered a knee injury," Mertesacker added. "And when he returned, he made a big impact in helping us qualify for the [UEFA] Champions League. Now we wait for him again and are hoping for his help in the fight to reach the final. We are a unit, a team, which has grown even closer since the 2006 World Cup. We definitely don't want to go out again in the semi-finals."