Ozil un­der fire ahead of Ger­many opener

Afro Voice (KwaZulu Natal) - - Sport -

MESUT Ozil has been chal­lenged to do his talk­ing on the pitch in Ger­many’s World Cup opener against Mex­ico on Sunday af­ter re­fus­ing to com­ment on a po­lit­i­cal storm trig­gered by a pic­ture of him with the Turk­ish pres­i­dent.

Ar­se­nal mid­fielder Ozil and Manch­ester City’s Ilkay Gun­do­gan, who were born in Ger­many to Turk­ish par­ents, were whis­tled by Ger­man fans in pre-World Cup friendlies af­ter pos­ing for a photo along­side Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan last month.

Gun­do­gan pre­sented Er­do­gan with a Manch­ester City shirt signed “to my pres­i­dent”, spark­ing fierce de­bate in Ger­many about whether the play­ers see them­selves as Turk­ish or Ger­man.

Gun­do­gan in­sists the meet­ing was not po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, but Ar­se­nal star Ozil has re­fused to com­ment and the row has fol­lowed the pair to Rus­sia.

Ger­man Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (DFB) pres­i­dent Rein­hard Grindel says the team’s fans must back them, but he also gave Ozil a thinly-veiled ul­ti­ma­tum.

“If he doesn’t want to give an an­swer, then hope­fully he will on the pitch,” Grindel said.

The pair were booed by Ger­man fans in the 2-1 de­feat away to Aus­tria a fort­night ago.

Ozil was in­jured for last week’s win over Saudi Ara­bia, but Gun­do­gan was jeered when he came off the bench in Lev­erkusen.

Ger­man tabloid Bild claims he wept in the dress­ing room af­ter­wards and had to be com­forted by team­mates. The is­sue has been an un­wanted dis­trac­tion in the de­fend­ing World Cup cham­pi­ons’ camp.

“The two have an­swered our ques­tions within the team, but I can un­der­stand that there are peo­ple who did not like the meet­ing (with Er­do­gan),” for­ward Thomas Muller said.

Mid­fielder Toni Kroos be­lieves it will help both Gun­do­gan and Ozil when the tour­na­ment gets un­der way.

“What is talked about in any talk shows can, and should not, in­ter­est us. We are here to play foot­ball,” Kroos said.

Ozil, a key player in the vic­to­ri­ous cam­paign in Brazil in 2014 when Gun­do­gan was often in­jured, has shown at Ar­se­nal that he is sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism.

The Er­do­gan saga will put the at­tack­ing mid­fielder un­der the spot­light, adding ex­tra pres­sure on him against Mex­ico at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium.

Head coach Joachim Low has made it clear the is­sue is tak­ing a toll, but “not for a sec­ond” did he think of ax­ing the pair.

“My job is to get both play­ers, who have cer­tainly suf­fered from this sit­u­a­tion, in good shape,” Low said on Wednesday.

“It may be that these play­ers will still be ac­com­pa­nied by whis­tles. So be it. I wish it were oth­er­wise.”

For­mer Ger­many in­ter­na­tion­als have slammed the pair while Ste­fan Ef­fen­berg crit­i­cised the DFB for not tak­ing a harder line.

“If you have cer­tain val­ues, as the DFB re­peat­edly con­veys, then the de­ci­sion can ac­tu­ally only be to throw the two play­ers out,” Ef­fen­berg said.

“Ozil and Gun­do­gan were lucky that the DFB acted in­con­sis­tently and were not quick in this case.”

Ex-West Ham mid­fielder Thomas Hit­zlsperger has ac­cused Ozil of duck­ing the is­sue.

“Mesut Ozil has never been very talk­a­tive, he shows his qual­ity on the pitch and doesn’t speak much,” Hit­zlsperger said.

“When­ever it gets un­com­fort­able, he shifts it off to his team of ad­vi­sors and is un­able to re­act.”

Even Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel weighed in: “They be­long to the na­tional team and there­fore I would be happy if fans would also clap.” – AFP

PIC­TURE: ANADOLU AGENCY

UP­SETS GER­MANY FANS: Mesut Ozil. Mid­fielder

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