Germany try to move on from Reus
It should have been his World Cup, but Marco Reus will get no chance to shine on the biggest stage of the footballing world. An ankle injury has ended the Germany forward's dream of impressing in Brazil.
Writing about Germany's distraction driven training camp in South Tyrol a week ago, I said: "The German soul sometimes allows nothing more than a bleak smile. Expect the worst, the German soul says. Rather than hoping for the best, seek out a disaster beyond all expectation."
On Friday night, with the half-time whistle just seconds away, disaster struck for Marco Reus and for Germany. At the age of 25, Marco Reus had been in the form of his life over the past 10 weeks. Two years after leaving his first mark in Germany as the 2012 Footballer of the Year, Reus had finally taken his game onto another level.
All of a sudden, the versatile attacking midfielder was not only responsible for scoring, setting up goals and flying past opposing defenders, but also could be seen winning balls in midfield, setting up plays and tirelessly covering ground around the entire pitch.
"I have taken a good development in the last one or two years. I am still not there where I can be," Reus said in an interview with Sport Bild on Wednesday. "I see myself as a player for whom there are no limits."
Since the end of March, Reus scored 10 goals and set up a further seven in only 13 matches for Borussia Dortmund. His excellent form, versatility, vision -- seeing space where only a handful of players in the world would spot it -- and improved work in defense made the BVB star one of the World Cup's biggest prospects.
Creative, unpredictable and in form, Reus was a rare ray of hope for Germany head coach Joachim Loew, who has already come under pressure from a public that expects nothing less than the World Cup title in Brazil.
On Friday in the team's final test before flying to Brazil, Loew had hoped to end the preparation with a smile. Looking at the result (a 6-1 rout of Armenia and the way his team connected on the field, the Germany boss could have smiled -- and so he did -- but it was the bleak smile of someone knowing he has just been robbed of one of his biggest assets.
Before his injury, the connection of Reus and Thomas Mueller hinted at greater things to come. Playing without a real attacker, it was mostly the Bayern Munich midfielder who could be seen in central attack. From time to time he changed positions with his Borussia Dortmund counterpart. They connected, playing passes into those tiny boxes of space; while the Germany match was still far from perfect, it was easy to envision that the pair could make the difference in Brazil.
It all changed within seconds. Reus, in pain and in tears, aware of what happened, limped off the pitch, supported by two physios. And Germany played on.
It was the end of the world for Marco Reus, the end of his dream to shine at the World Cup, to push his limits even deeper into unexplored territory, to become of the world's greatest players, to win the title with Germany and become a legend. Still Germany carried on because life always moves on, no matter what happens.
"There are moments no words can describe. Chin up, Marco!" Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil summed it up on Saturday morning. But underneath that tweet, the future of German football in Brazil could be seen. The two Arsenal stars Ozil and, yes, especially, Lukas Podolski.
This is how it often goes -- disaster beyond all expectation for one player means a fresh chance for another player. In this case it's Lukas Podolski, 29 years old with 114 caps for Germany and benched for Reus in recent matches.
The Arsenal forward made sure to prove that he can indeed fill the gap left by Reus. His game is different, and he has been written off more often than any other Nationalmannschaft player, but at least against Armenia (and also in the previous test against Cameroon) Podolski showed that he still has what it takes on the biggest stage in international football.
On Friday, he added one goal and three assists to his Germany tally. Against Cameroon he had already been involved in Andre Schuerrle's goal. Both Podolski and the Chelsea man have formed a surprising partnership on the pitch; they're now most likely to get their chance to test it against Portugal on June 16.
The world might have ended for Marco Reus, but Germany have enough talent in their squad to overcome the injury. For the time being all Germany have to offer is a bleak smile. But life moves on, and if Loew's starting XI are able to dodge danger confronted with disaster beyond all expectation and develop an even better team spirit, the big shock for one player could in the end be a somewhat positive thing.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.