Sami Khedira has three consecutive championships with Juventus behind him followed by the training camp in South Tyrol. Now the central midfielder is looking forward to the 2018 World Cup and Die Mannschaft’s first game on Sunday (KO 17:00 CEST) against Mexico. He’s also looking forward to meeting his former teammate Chicharito. The 31-year-old World Cup winner speaks to DFB.de about the opener.
DFB.de: Mr. Khedira, kicker magazine wrote described Mexico as “really tricky opponents who are very difficult to beat.” How strong really is the Mexico team?
Sami Khedira: They play great football, they’re an aggressive team; the word “tricky” sums it up. We definitely shouldn’t underestimate them even if we did beat them convincingly in the Confed Cup last year. We’re taking this match very, very seriously – especially since it’s our first game at the World Cup. We don’t know exactly where we stand and we don’t know exactly how well they’ll start at the World Cup.
DFB.de: Is your mindset going into the first game of a World Cup more important than it normally is in football?
Khedira: It’s similar to the first game after a long winter break – you’ve been preparing for a long time, you’ve done everything, but what happens in the competition is what happens. No training sessions or friendlies will help then. But I can also say that we are fully prepared. I hope that the excitement spurs us on during the tournament. We’ve always had successful opening games in recent tournaments. Problems have tended to come up in the second group game.
DFB.de: Since you’ve been a player for Germany, Die Mannschaft have always started with a win in tournaments. A 4-0 win over Australia in 2010, a 1-0 win over Portugal in 2012 and 4-0 win over Portugal in 2014 and a 2-0 win over Ukraine in 2016.
Khedira: I’m hoping for a similar start this time (laughs). A win in the opening game is always important – for the team spirit and confidence. We want to be able to sense the excitement on Sunday, but keep a cool head at the same time. But that also applies in general – whoever makes the least mistakes wins the tournament in the end. We have to control the game. We have to play with a certain level of risk and without fear – that’s important.
DFB.de: Is the “Little Pea” still a threat?
Khedira: I played with Chicharito at Real Madrid. He’s a player who never gives up, which makes him a symbol for the entire Mexican team. He’s always playing hard and he’s technically brilliant. He may look harmless, but he has a huge amount of talent, he’s aggressive in the challenges and never stops running. Chicharito is definitely the embodiment of a Mexican player.
DFB.de: What do you think about Hirving Lozano, who helped PSV Eindhoven to the title in the Netherlands with his 19 goals?
Khedira: I know him, but not down to the last detail. We’ll get video clips of all the Mexican players in the next few days, which we’ll go over and analyse.
DFB.de: Is the team still feeling the effects of the two tough games against Austria and Saudi Arabia?
Khedira: Definitely not. We’ve talked about the games and put them behind us now. We should have scored three maybe four more goals in the first half against Saudi Arabia and with a bit of luck we would have scored them as well. It also has to be said that we cannot play like we did in the second half of that game. Everyone here knows that if we play like that at the World Cup we’ll get knocked out. With good intensity over 90 minutes, not just 30, it would have been a different story. I think everyone has seen the potential of this team.
DFB.de: A question often asked in the last couple of weeks: Will the 2014 World Cup winners have to lead the way?
Khedira: They definitely have responsibility. A team needs leadership, a team needs calm heads. In Manuel Neuer, we have someone who takes responsibility and can lead the team. He’s won everything there is to win, and alongside him in the team there are players like Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and myself, who all want to lead the team, who can lead the team. That’s incredibly important, because we do have a very young and ambitious team, made up of players who need guidance. We need to set an example and make sure we pull closer together as a team – that’s our responsibility as the older players.
DFB.de: Toni Kroos has said multiple times that the team needs to simply become more difficult to play against. Is he right?
Khedira: We have a lot of quality. The danger is that at times you can start thinking: ‘We are World Champions, we are Confed Cup winners, we have the quality, we are good footballers.’ But the deciding factor will be playing as a team and being hungry for more success. These factors decide games and in the end tournaments – we can’t rely on our quality. The lads who we’re playing against will run that extra mile against us, the World Cup holders, they’ll be more aggressive and more motivated. If we let up in any way we’ll get beaten, but, as I said, we have a team full of champions. We need to give even more than in 2014 in order to win it again.
DFB.de: How fresh do you feel? You’ve played 39 competitive games for Juventus this season, plus the internationals.
Khedira: We had a few days off after the end of the season, not a lot, but three days were enough for me. Now we’ve had two and a half weeks of preparations which have allowed me to work on a few things. Not basic fitness and endurance, but on intensity, liveliness and power. I’m very motivated. I feel like my batteries have been recharged. Mentality is the most important thing: the older you get, the more you enjoy these big tournaments. I know I need to relish the experience.
DFB.de: You mentioned recently that you’re in a really good way physically.
Khedira: I’ve worked hard over the last two years since I had that little setback in my career. I needed to do a lot to get back to that same level. I’ve felt very productive for almost two years now and I’m not resting on my laurels. I have worked intensively over the last two weeks and now I’m very excited.