Germany's 4-0 hammering of Portugal on Monday was a statement of the Mannschaft's resolve as they began their campaign for World Cup glory. But one thing was missing: vice-captain and 102-time capped midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Long considered an indispensable player for club and country, the Bayern Munich man watched from the bench for 90 minutes, with Joachim Low having preferred a midfield trio of Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira.
Schweinsteiger had an excuse for missing the game, having struggled with a knee ailment in recent weeks. But the day before the match, Low told reporters that Schweinsteiger's knee was "fine" and that Schweinsteiger being airlifted away from the German camp on Saturday for a medical exam was only for insurance purposes, according to Robin Bairner on Goal.com.
If Low wanted to play Schweinsteiger, he could have. Even if he wasn't quite pain-free, the midfielder probably could have played. As a precedent, Schweinsteiger admitted that he played through the pain barrier at Euro 2012, as reported by FIFA.com, his ankle having not fully recovered from a crippling blow suffered four months before the tournament.
At this point, it's very difficult for Low to justify using Schweinsteiger for several reasons. When he played with pain at Euro 2012, the vice-captain generally struggled. But Low kept faith with the ailing midfielder, who was a weak point in his team.
Schweinsteiger isn't exactly in great form right now as he returns from injury, and Low is apparently reticent to make the same mistake for a second time.
Some will point out that Khedira also had not been in the best of form heading into the World Cup, his cruciate ligament surgery having blighted his 2013-14 season, yet the Real Madrid man started against Portugal.
Low's decision was justified by Khedira's excellent performance against the Iberians, and the trainer will be wary not to create a Schweinsteiger-Lahm-Kroos midfield after that combination struggled for Bayern on the big stage in 2013-14.
Although short of match practice when he joined the German camp at the end of the club season, Khedira was not injured and was able to participate in full team training in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. And as he showed against Portugal, he's ready.
The aerial presence, sheer physicality and darting runs from midfield that Khedira offers make him a unique asset in the German squad, one that would probably start even if Schweinsteiger were fit.
Elsewhere in midfield, Schweinteiger's competition is tough to overcome.
Kroos is a better distributor of the ball and, after his outstanding performance in the Portugal game, is undroppable.
That leaves Lahm, who if Low had a full squad available would probably play at right-back and make way for his vice-captain. But as the 30-year-old told SID (via Goal.com's Stefan Coerts) in May, he feels more like a midfielder at the moment. And as the captain and more in-form player, Lahm may well remain in the central-midfield role.
"If it's not broken, don't fix it" is a cliche that is relevant to Low after a couple experiments in the Euro 2012 knockout rounds resulted in the capitulation of his defense. And especially given the precedent of Schweinsteiger playing with pain in Poland and Ukraine, he'll be wary of the danger of re-introducing even a seasoned veteran like the vice-captain on such a great stage.
Given the quality that Khedira, Kroos and Lahm showed on Monday, it's hard to argue against that. Sad though it may be, Schweinsteiger may have to wait until preparations for Euro 2016 to play a major role for Germany once more.
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