There had been no middle ground with Mesut Ozil in finals football for Germany. In the first 26 matches at World Cups and European Championships for which he was eligible to play, he started them all.
But in game number 27 on Saturday against Sweden there was no Ozil in the starting line-up. And even when Die Mannschaft desperately needed a winner late in the game the Arsenal star was not called upon. To say this was a new experience for Ozil would be an understatement.
Until now Ozil has been one of the key cogs in Joachim Low’s side, and the manager has always lent upon the former Werder Bremen and Real Madrid man whenever he has needed results. And that is what made Ozil’s exclusion for the Sweden fixture so notable.
There is, of course, every chance that he will return for the final group fixture against South Korea in Kazan on Wednesday, especially given that his replacement in the number 10 role against Sweden, Julian Draxler, failed to convince in key moments in front of goal.
But Ozil is facing a new reality. One in which he is no longer an automatic choice.
In Jogi Low he has always had a close ally in charge during his international career. The head coach is linked to the same agency as Ozil and a clutch of other national team players, and what’s more they seem to largely be on similar wavelengths. As such Low’s faith in the Arsenal man had been unwavering during times when the player had been criticised and questioned in public.
To those who have watched his club career more closely than his performances in a Germany shirt, it may come as little surprise that Ozil’s worthiness of a place has come into question. As regularly castigated by neutrals and pundits for his allegedly lethargic Arsenal displays as he is lauded for his match-winning turns, he has become one of the most polarising figures in the English Premier League.
Yet so often when Ozil’s position in the national team had been debated it had come down to a political stand-off between those in favour of having mixed-ethnicity players in the Germany teams and those against. That particular pot was stirred when he and Ilkay Gundogan posed with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, causing endless debates across Germany as to their right to continue playing for the world champions.
Over the last couple of weeks though, it has been his performances alone which have drawn criticism from fans and, most pointedly, a couple of huge former Germany stars.
“There is always an up and down in his performances and it has to do with his personality,” blasted Michael Ballack of Ozil prior to the World Cup.
“When he scores you see he doesn’t really celebrate. He’s calm. He keeps a lot of emotions inside. It’s the same when he plays for Germany. He has these performances where you can’t see him really and he’s not really fighting.
“It’s his personality. You can’t ask players for something they perhaps don’t have, because they have other qualities instead.”
And after his sub-par showing against Mexico, with his untouchable place in the squad clearly under threat, Germany’s record cap holder Lothar Matthaus stuck the boot in in his column for Bild.
"What annoys me is that his body language is negative,” said the veteran of five World Cups.
“I often have the feeling that on the pitch Ozil doesn’t feel comfortable in the Germany shirt. He is not free, almost as if he does not want to play.
“There is no heart, no joy, no passion. After the latest impression, it is not out of the question that he will be out of the national team after the World Cup.
“For a year or two, Ozil has played at a level that does not justify the free ticket of Jogi Low.
“If things go well then Ozil plays well too. If things are going badly, he won’t perform well.”
His exclusion against Sweden shows that there is no free ticket though, and there should be a tip of the cap in Low’s direction for making the decision to overlook a player who has done him so well in the past but whose performances of late have suggested others deserved their chance.
Should he be recalled as expected, he will doubtless get the opportunity during this World Cup to pull Germany out of a tight spot; to prove Matthaus wrong by performing well when things go badly. It is the key criticism of many when looking at his Arsenal form, but having his ability doubted on a stage as big as this one is a very new hurdle for him to negotiate.
The good news is that he still has the backing of his manager. “We have strong competition with us in the squad, and we will still need his creativity in the tournament,” said Low when asked about Ozil’s outlook following the Sweden result.
That could well start with a recall against South Korea on Wednesday. But now that Ozil has been proven to be just as vulnerable to the axe as anyone else it is time for him to earn back his indispensability.