Argentina forward Lionel Messi, center, likely will match up with Germany's Benedikt Howedes in Sunday's World Cup final. (Juan Mabromata / Getty Images)
Porto Seguro, Brazil — For a man about to face one of the game’s most prolific scorers, Benedikt Howedes is remarkably calm and composed ahead of the World Cup final.
Even more so considering he’ll be playing out of his usual position.
Howedes has been used as left back by Germany coach Joachim Loew during the tournament and the Schalke defender is likely to be the one assigned to stopping Argentina star Lionel Messi’s runs on the right wing.
“I’ll do my part, but it will be a collective effort. That’s how even a player of such quality can be stopped,” Howedes said Thursday.
Howedes already has had to deal with another scoring sensation, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Ronaldo was held scoreless and Germany won its World Cup opener 4-0.
Usually a center back, Howedes has defied skeptics with his performances at the tournament.
“Since we are in the final, I must have done something right,” said Howedes, one of the three Germany players to have played every minute of the tournament. The other two are goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and captain Philipp Lahm.
The position of left back has been considered the weak link in Germany’s team for years. Loew has tried several players in the position and even complained once that “I can’t cut a left back out of wood” when none met his standards.
When exactly Loew came up with the idea of using Howedes is not clear, but he has been at left back since day one of the tournament.
“I am playing in a position for which I haven’t trained. But I think I am helping the team with my presence,” Howedes said.
Germany started the tournament with four center backs in its last line of defense but Lahm has since returned to right back from the midfield and the defense has gained stability.
Howedes has played right back for Germany and Schalke when necessary but being on the left is a novelty.
“For me, it’s completely crazy what’s going on. I still can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s huge what’s happening to me and the final will be the highlight. We want the title.”
Howedes does not provide much attacking spark on the left flank but says that that’s his not priority anyway.
“It’s not my job to send sensational crosses with my strong left foot,” Howedes said.
Loew has praised Howedes’ robust performances.
“He’s been very strong in one-on-one situations and has covered a lot of distance,” Loew said. “His strong play in the air has been useful both in the back and in the attack.”
Neymar got emotional when talking about the injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, saying if the knee to his back had been just to the side he “could be in a wheelchair” right now.
The Brazil striker cried as he recalled the injury Thursday. He had to stop talking for several seconds, dropping his head and putting a hand in front of his eyes.
Neymar says, “It’s difficult to talk about a move that ended happening in such an important moment of my career.” He says “God blessed” him, preventing a more serious injury.
The 22-year-old Neymar complained of the challenge from Juan Camilo Zuniga, but said the Colombian player called to apologize.
A World Cup hospitality company director has been declared a fugitive by Brazilian police investigating a ticket scalping scheme.
Police have told The Associated Press the probe is set to expand to include FIFA and domestic football officials.
Investigator Fabio Barucke said Ray Whelan left the lavish Copacabana Palace through a service entry on Thursday about an hour before police arrived to re-arrest him.
Police accuse Whelan as being a main source of World Cup tickets that were sold to an Algerian national they label as the biggest scalper of tickets for the sport’s marquee tournament.
... The World Cup semifinals each were seen by an average of more than 12 million viewers in the United States on ESPN and Spanish-language Univision.
ESPN said Germany’s 7-1 rout over host Brazil on Tuesday averaged 6,643,000 viewers and Argentina’s penalty-kicks win over the Netherlands the following day averaged 6,823,000.