Sharpshooter Lars Bender: "I’m a genuine false nine"
National coach Joachim Löw called Brazil 2014 a “World Cup of willpower”, in reference to the current situation in the country, the sheer size of the nation, the extent to which the temperature fluctuates, and the scale of the challenge ahead for a central European team in a South American-based tournament. “Only a team with a strong will to win will have a chance of winning this tournament,” said Löw.
Germany’s first international match of this FIFA World Cup season, against Paraguay, was a good opportunity to put that willpower to the test. What is more, there were many dark clouds over the Betzenberg as Germany encountered several issues in defence and a whole host of coordination problems.
Löw was not satisfied, which is hardly surprising given that Germany conceded three goals. “We made basic errors in the first half,” said the national coach. “Overall, we were too nervous in defence and gave our opponents far too much space.”
Lars Bender ran and ran and ran...
However, Löw’s team did demonstrate one quality: their willpower. It was evident that the players were desperate to avoid losing their first international of a World Cup season. Germany came back from two goals down and, even when defeat loomed again at 3-2, they summoned up every last ounce of strength to ensure they did not emerge from the encounter on the losing side.
That they managed to salvage was in large part thanks to one player whose determination is one of his most prominent features: Lars Bender. There are players who run far, there are players who run effectively, and there are players who can do both. Bender falls into the latter category. The Bayer Leverkusen man is almost always among the players to have covered the most ground during a match.
It is not unusual for Bender to clock up mileage well in excess of the average even when he is not in the starting line-up. In Wednesday’s match, he covered a remarkable 9.41 kilometres in 63 minutes of play – after being brought on for the injured Ilkay Gündogan in the 27th minute. When Bender wants something, he really goes after it.
An incredible scoring rate: five shots, four goals
Bender has another quality whenever he pulls a Germany shirt: ruthless efficiency. Although Germany had 14 significant chances to score at the Betzenberg, they only came away with three goals. However, if Bender had been at the end of each of these passing combinations, Germany may well have reached double figures.
At least, they would have done on the evidence of Bender’s scoring stats for the national team. In 15 senior appearances, Bender has taken five shots and scored four goals, meaning a sensational scoring rate of 80 per cent.
Bender’s volley makes it 3-3
Bender made a memorable appearance at the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, where he scored to make it 2-1 in the 80th minute of Germany’s third group game against Denmark after sprinting the full length of the pitch, a result which sealed Germany’s place in the quarter-finals in the process.
It was a similar story in Kaiserslautern last night. In the 74th minute, the defensive midfielder first failed with a shot from 25 metres out, but just moments later he was the sharpest, most determined player on the field. The ball came back from Lukas Podolski to Bender, who beat two opposing players to the ball, chested it down into the penalty area and reacted swiftly, firing an unstoppable volley quickly and decisively into the far corner to make it 3-3.
55 passes, 87 per cent completed
The German national side had imagined starting their World Cup season somewhat differently. They were keen to inspire their fans and give themselves a boost for the upcoming decisive World Cup qualifiers, which is why even Lars Bender, who completed 87 percent of the 55 passes he played to his team-mates, was not happy with the team’s performance at the Betzenberg.
However, by the time Bender came to leave, he had partly rediscovered his good mood. Naturally he was asked about his goal and his highly efficient scoring record. Bender shrugged his shoulders and gave a mischievous grin. “It’s like I’ve always said,” he said with a wink, “I’m a genuine false nine.”