On corner kicks, plus the occasional direct free kick near Germany's goal, center back Mats Hummels will hustle forward into the box to join some of his basketball-size teammates. The already high anxiety level for Brazil devotees will shoot into the stratosphere.
Germany is the cognoscente of set pieces. When they result in a goal for any team, the usual responsible body part is the head. ESPN dug back a half-century to determine that the Germans have amassed 37 headed goals in the World Cup over that period, nearly double Italy's 19, the next-highest total.
Hummels has knocked in two through five games in this tournament, which is a bonus for a shut-down defender. Until recently, however, he was no certainty to start for his unimpressed coach, Joaquim Loew.
Two years ago, Hummels took the fall for a goal allowed to Italy's Mario Balotelli that sent Germany tumbling out of the European Cup. He was already on Loew's hit list for a habit of striking long balls instead of short passes from the back.
Further, Hummels was a cocky chap when he joined the national team, well before he had reason to be. Rather than go about his business quietly, he tended to speak up. Players then were divided into two factions based on their affiliation with rival German professional teams, and he expressed the opinion that his group was a victim of bias in team matters.
Hummels even was a reserve in some lead-up games to the Cup. But once the bell rang in Brazil, he was entrenched in the lineup, except for one DNP while dealing with flu symptoms. He and Loew have reached detente, and the coach has been effusive in praising the player who once made it difficult on himself.
Now, the difficulty is all with the opponent, especially on set pieces when Hummel parks his 6-foot-4 frame in the box. Two words of advice for Brazil: Heads up.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times