The joy on Sami Khedira's face upon netting Germany's fifth goal in the remarkable 7-1 rout against World Cup hosts Brazil was understandable.
Almost eight months to the day the German midfielder suffered torn knee ligaments following an innocuous collision with Italy's Andrea Pirlo. Khedira was displaying typical tigerish instincts in closing down Pirlo, but, having got to the ball a fraction late, twisted awkwardly and tore both his anterior cruciate ligament, and medial collateral ligament.
He returned to the Real Madrid squad against Valencia on May 4th, although he was forced to wait until the final game of the season, a 3-1 win against Espanyol, to make his long-awaited comeback.
No longer assured of a first-team place, with Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria thriving in a midfield triumvirate, Khedira won a spot in the Champions League final by virtue of Alonso's suspension, however a muted performance saw him replaced by Isco just short of the hour mark, with the young Spaniard changing the game in Madrid's favour.
So it was fair to say Khedira's route to the World Cup finals was by no means plain sailing. German coach Joachim Löw gave the former Stuttgart man a major boost by picking him over Bastian Schweinsteiger, as the German's waltzed past Portugal in the opening Group G game, but he was hauled off after a disappointing seventy minutes against Ghana, and was not seen again until the round of sixteen game, against Algeria, coming on as a second-half sub for the injured Shkodran Mustafi.
As always with injuries, one man's misfortune is another man's gain, and with Philip Lahm required to play full-back, rather than Löw's preferred position of shielding midfielder, Germany played Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos against France, and completely shut down the talented French midfield, lauded for their creativity and athleticism. Khedira lasted the whole game, proving he had overcome his injury from a fitness perspective, and Germany had a settled midfield with which to head into the next game, against Brazil.
What happened that night has been greatly discussed and debated, and whether it was German brilliance, or Brazilian ineptitude, there is no denying the magnificent pace, power and intelligence that Khedira displayed. His tactical awareness was clear to see in the role he played marauding down the right-flank, repeatedly catching Marcelo out of position.
Löw now has a major decision to make regarding Khedira. That he starts is obvious, but whether he man-marks Lionel Messi, or leaves him to be zonally controlled is an intriguing debate.
Khedira has arguably showed his best form when buccaneering into the final third, and whilst he is destructive in defence, asking him to mark Messi could deprive Germany of the incision they displayed against Brazil.
A better decision, if Löw does decide to man-mark, is to allow Schweinsteiger, who naturally picks up deeper positions when setting the tempo of the game, to man-mark Messi. This move would also allow Khedira to push Marcos Rojo back into how own half, as he did to such great effect against Brazil, and leave Kroos free to release Germany's attack.
So whilst a lot of the attention going into the game will be focussed, rightly so, on the mercurial talent of Lionel Messi, and his team-mate Thomas Müller, it could be Khedira who settles the game, rather than his more illustrious companions.
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