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New look, new role

Schweini handed control of German midfield

Resplendent in a bold new hairstyle, in-form Bayern man Bastian Schweinsteiger is poised for a coming-of-age appearance in national colours after Germany boss Joachim Löw asked the 23-year-old to fill the pivotal central midfield role against Wales in a Euro 2008 qualifier at the weekend.

“In the absence of Schneider, Frings and Ballack, he’s one of our most experienced players. We’re expecting him to play to his strengths and ability,“ Löw declared in advance of a match which could see the three-times European champions take a giant stride towards next summer’s tournament.

Heavily involved

The newly silver-haired Schweinsteiger will start his first international since Germany’s 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Prague at the end of March, moving infield from the left flank to the centre. The Bavarian-born player showed no trace of nerves at the news: “It’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Schweinsteiger tried his hand in the playmaking role at club level on a handful of occasions last season, but with only limited success. He has subsequently re-appraised the demands of the job: “You’re always involved. You play the ball more often, and you have to make more tackles.“

Inspired by Ribéry

Löw intends to school Schweinsteiger in his new, enhanced responsibilities in a series of private talks, although the coach has already set the bar high. “He can improve the quality of our football and make decisive interventions,” Löw explained at Germany’s team base in Cologne, “we’re expecting a better performance from him than he gave for Bayern last Sunday in Hamburg.“

That match aside, Schweinsteiger has blossomed this term after finally shaking off a persistent knee injury and joining forces with cultured newcomer Franck Ribéry. “He was very good in pre-season and the League Cup. Bastian deserves his place in the Bayern team,“ Löw confirmed.

In line for 44th cap

Many felt Schweini would be one of the casualties of the club’s summer investment, but the player never lost faith in himself: “I always believed I’d play if I was fit. That was my approach.“ The Munich youth product has been invigorated by the new competition for places and his partnership with the gifted Ribéry: “Franck [Ribéry] is an important influence, he’s a natural at football.“

Despite his tender years, Schweinsteiger’s 43 caps make him easily the most experienced midfielder in the German squad to face the Welsh. “It’s a good thing, playing so often as a young man,” the 23-year-old proudly observed. Should he contest all six of Germany’s remaining games this calendar year, he could earn his 50th cap on 6 February 2008 against Austria in Vienna, the very stadium where he aims to hoist the European championship trophy on 29 June: “I wouldn’t be averse to standing there next year with the Cup.”