LILLE, June 27 — Germany's Jerome Boateng arrived at Euro 2016 surrounded by controversy but his first international goal and another rock solid performance against Slovakia cemented his position as a new team leader.
Boateng's sweetly struck eighth-minute volley set Germany on their way to a comfortable 3-0 win and a lip-smacking quarter-final against either reigning European champions Spain or Italy.
“I hit the ball well and am glad it went in. It was also about time (I scored). I had said before that it about time to got round to it. Luckily it worked out,” said Boateng who had been in his 56th international.
Before the tournament, the towering 27-year-old Bayern Munich defender, who was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father, was dragged into a race controversy.
In May, the deputy leader of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Alexander Gauland, said: “People find him good as a footballer, but they don't want to have a Boateng as a neighbour.”
Gauland faced widespread condemnation for his remarks, which were widely seen as racist, but Boateng brushed them off.
“I can only smile about it. In all honesty, it's sad that something like that is said these days,” he said.
Boateng was also one of the most vocal players about the emotional return to Paris seven months after Germany were playing France in the Stade de France when suicide bombers blew themselves up outside at the start of attacks which killed 130 people across the city.
He said he was not reassured by the huge security operation around the championships.
“My family and children will not be coming to the stadium. The risk is simply too big,” he said.
But once in France, Boateng has been an outstanding presence in a German team which only began to fire on all cylinders against Slovakia.
His extraordinary goalline clearance in the opening 2-0 defeat of Ukraine — he threw himself into the net to prevent the ball crossing the line — typified his commitment.
Germany are yet to concede a goal in Euro 2016, largely thanks to Boateng.
A calf injury forced him off in Germany's final group game, a 1-0 win against Northern Ireland, but intense physiotherapy got him back on the pitch against Slovakia.
“The doctors and physios gave their all or I wouldn't have been able to play,” Boeteng said.
In Germany's hierarchical national team, a “council” of senior players — captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, goalkeeper and deputy captain Manuel Neuer and Thomas Mueller — negotiate with coach Joachim Loew and team management.
While Boateng is not part of that group, his commanding performances are fast establishing him as the team's unofficial captain.
The player who spent the 2010-2011 season at Manchester City has come a long way since the 2012 Euros when he was pictured partying with a model hours before the team flew to Poland.
“Within the team he is absolutely respected and recognised,” Loew has said. — AFP