There's a commonly held opinion circulating the Internet that Thomas Mueller is single-handedly dragging Germany through the World Cup. And indeed, the Bayern Munich man is having a tremendous tournament. He's scored four goals and assisted two more and, until the quarterfinal, had played a direct role in a goal in each of Germany's four matches.
That streak ended against France; Germany needed another hero. Enter Mats Hummels.
After just 12 minutes, the Dortmund center back pushed aside Raphael Varane and delivered a perfect headed finish from a free kick. That goal (his second of the tournament) was all Germany needed to advance past France and into the semifinal.
Hummels came up big on the scoresheet on Friday, but that was only the beginning of his contribution to the German cause.
The defender made a game-saving block to deny Karim Benzema in the 74th minute and generally was spot-on in his defending. Only once did the French forward get away from Hummels when the center back was meant to mark him; in that instance, Hummels quickly recovered and made a good block.
Hummels was deservedly named Man of the Match and drew heaps of praise from coach Joachim Low and his teammates alike.
According to FIFA.com, Low called him "hugely impressive." But the greatest compliment was payed by a player who should be his archrival (at least based on the rivalry between their respective clubs, Dortmund and Schalke), Benedikt Hoewedes: "We've got several leaders in this team but Mats has developed amazingly well and is definitely considered one of those players now."
Indeed, Hummels has shown up in a huge way for Germany throughout the World Cup thus far. Die Mannschaft's back line has often been criticized as shaky, but the fact of the matter is that the Germans have kept three clean sheets in four games and conceded just two goals when Hummels has played.
Like Mueller in attack, Hummels is the one man in defense who has really stepped up not only by delivering great individual performances but also by proving himself as a leader.
That Hummels has performed so brilliantly at the World Cup should come as no surprise; he was also heroic at Euro 2012 and arguably the tournament's best player through the quarterfinals. A silly mistake—one that finally betrayed his youth and naivety—against Italy in the semifinal cast a dark shadow upon his tournament overall, and his previous brilliance was rather cruelly forgotten.
Now 25 years of age, Hummels is a more mature player. Comparing him with other great center backs of the last decade—Nemanja Vidic was just a couple of months from his 25th birthday before he ever put on a Manchester United shirt; the same could be said of Thiago Silva at Milan—Hummels is of ripe age to finally establish himself as one of world football's very best at his position.
Hummels and Germany will take on Silva's Brazil in the Tuesday's semifinal match, but the two won't meet face-to-face. Silva will be suspended following his second yellow card in Brazil's five games in the tournament. Hummels, who has yet to be booked and who has committed just four fouls, will most certainly be in the German team.
It's somewhat tragic that fans won't be able to see the two square off, but the fact that Hummels will play when such a great defender as Silva is ineligible speaks volumes of the German's class. He may have made a regrettable error at the Euros two years ago, but Hummels is now a more mature player.
Mueller may be the star man, but Germany's success will rest just as much on Hummels' capable shoulders.
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