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Germany makes Mesut Ozil the scapegoat for World Cup exit

July 10, 2018
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FILE - In this June 14, 2018 file photo Mesut Ozil scratches his head during a training session of the German team at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Vatutinki near Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, file)

BERLIN (AP) — Same coach, same team manager, same president.

And yet after almost two weeks of reflection, the German soccer federation (DFB) appears to have decided midfielder Mesut Ozil is the main culprit for the team’s shock early World Cup exit.

Team manager Oliver Bierhoff wondered in a newspaper interview if Ozil should even have been taken to the tournament in Russia, while DFB president Reinhard Grindel followed up by demanding the player provide an “answer.”

Joachim Loew has not commented on the matter since deciding to stay on as coach.

Ozil, long a key player for Loew, has been in the firing line since he and national teammate Ilkay Gundogan posed for photos with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May. Both German-born players have Turkish roots.

While Gundogan attempted to distance himself from the incident in Britain, Ozil has maintained his silence - antagonizing the same people who said the issue had been dealt with before the World Cup.

“Only DFB officials can come up with the idea that a photo with Erdogan is responsible for a defeat against the football-giants of South Korea,” North Rhine-Westphalia minister president Armin Laschet said on Twitter.

Following Germany’s first-round exit, Bierhoff told newspaper Die Welt it might have been better to omit Ozil from the tournament. Bierhoff pulled back after criticism, saying it was a misunderstanding and he did not intend to single out any player for the team’s failure.

But Grindel kept the issue alive, telling the latest edition of Kicker magazine: “It’s true that Mesut has not commented yet. That has disappointed a lot of fans because they have questions and expect an answer. They are right to expect this answer. That’s why it’s totally clear for me that Mesut should speak on the issue.”

Grindel has received just as much criticism as Bierhoff did. The Berliner Zeitung newspaper accused the DFB president of “throwing oil on the fire to shine a good light on himself.”

The DFB itself arguably made the Erdogan-photo affair worse with its public admonishment of Gundogan and Ozil. Grindel was scathing in his criticism of the players, who were summoned for talks.

Now Grindel says, “We have to wait for the sporting analysis and see whether Joachim Loew still counts on him.”

Ozil has been one of Germany’s standout players since starring at the 2010 World Cup. His performances earned a switch from Schalke to Real Madrid. He has made 92 appearances for Germany, contributing 23 goals from midfield.

Ozil was not the only player to underperform in Russia, where defending champion Germany was knocked out after defeats to Mexico and South Korea. But his performances have come under the most scrutiny because of the Erdogan photos and because of his own high profile within the team.

“He and Gundogan suffered from what happened before the World Cup because they have been vindicated in Germany,” Ozil’s former Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, told Bein Sports.

Gundogan and Ozil were whistled by German fans during matches, while both have been subjected to abuse off the pitch, too.

German comedian Oliver Pocher impersonated Ozil with large fake eyes, saying he was going “home” on vacation and listing off the Turkish cities he was going to visit before returning.

Far-right politicians have been slating the player, while journalist Claus Strunz said “Mesut Ozil does not belong to Germany” after noting he does not sing the German anthem.

“No DFB official has condemned the racist comments against Ozil,” the Schwaebische Zeitung newspaper said.

Ozil’s father, Mustafa, told the Bild tabloid that Bierhoff’s statements were “an affront. In my opinion they only serve to save one’s own skin.”

Mustafa Ozil, who fell out with his son in 2013, suggested a racial motive for the attacks.

“Unfortunately there are still people in the German population who have reservations and prejudices against us of Turkish descent,” he said.

“In Mesut’s place I’d resign (from the Germany team). But that’s just my personal opinion.”

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