SANTO ANDRE Brazil (Reuters) - Germany’s Erik Durm was an obscure striker playing in the German third division last year before Borussia Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp converted him into a defender.
The 22-year-old was not even on the radar of Germany coach Joachim Loew until recently but his fairytale journey to the World Cup might even lead him into the starting lineup.
The speedy Durm was called up after some superb Champions League performances, including shutting down Real Madrid’s world record signing Gareth Bale in a 2-0 quarter-final home win in April.
The six-foot (183 cm) left back then completely stymied Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben in Dortmund’s 3-0 victory in Munich four days later, winning plaudits for his tenacious defending against one of the Bundesliga’s top scoring threats.
Durm was Loew’s surprise call-up in May. And even though he has just one international cap to his name - a stellar performance in Germany’s 2-2 draw against Cameroon on June 1 - he could end up on the pitch in Germany’s Group G matches against Portugal, Ghana and the United States – especially if Loew wants even more offensive firepower.
“I was a striker for 15 years and I still love to run forward on the attack,” Durm told reporters at Germany’s camp on Friday. “But I know I’m a defender and the object is to prevent goals. I still love everything about the attack, it’s great fun. I’ll always try get into the attack whenever I can.”
Durm’s instincts epitomise Germany’s style under Loew and it’s easy to see how the newcomer could fit nicely into the coach’s strategy in Brazil, especially after Marcel Schmelzer and Marcell Jansen were injured.
His meteoric rise from an unheralded striker in Dortmund’s third division side to a German international defender in just one season is likely to see more unappreciated forwards contemplating a switch to the back.
Loew wouldn’t offer any clear answers on his starting back four for Monday’s Group G opening match against Portugal, but Durm or Schalke’s Benedikt Hoewedes are the two players battling it out for the left back slot.
“Competition is always good and we’re pushing each other as hard as we can,” said Durm when asked if he had received any indications from Loew about whether he’ll be starting on Monday.
“I haven’t been around long enough to notice whatever hints the trainer is making about that. We’ll find out on June 16. Everything else is speculation.”
Durm did acknowledge, however, that his chances of starting will hinge largely on whether Loew will be emphasising the attacking game - as he did for the most part during Germany’s qualifying campaign - or shift the focus to fielding a tighter, more compact defence at the World Cup.
Durm might speak softly, almost meekly at news conferences, but his language on the pitch is fearless as he showed against Bale and Robben. Durm said he wouldn’t flinch for a second if he gets called upon to stop World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday.
“If you’re afraid of anyone you won’t play your best,” he said. “I’m not afraid of anyone. He might deserve respect as footballer of the year and all. But we know we’ve got a super team.”
Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum. Editing by Patrick Johnston