Twice at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018, Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Julian Brandt has been Germany's super-sub – or at least has come within inches of being so. In the 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the world champions' opener in Moscow, the 22-year-old – selected ahead of Leroy Sane – rattled the outside of the post with a rasping drive in the closing stages. Then against Sweden Brandt came even closer, shaking the inside of the post with a fierce volley from the edge of the box.
Had Toni Kroos' sensational free-kick not gone in at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, then the Bremen native's woodwork-rattlers would have gone down as pivotal near-misses in a catastrophic German World Cup defence; as things stand, Germany and Brandt have been gifted another chance against South Korea on Wednesday – and both are determined to take it.
Knowing a two-goal win will assure Germany of a last-16 berth, Brandt spoke at length to DFB.de. Here, bundesliga.com has abridged and translated that interview.
Question: Julian Brandt, when your shot hit the post and bounced back into play against Sweden we all thought that was that and it wasn't to be; we thought it would be a draw and we'd likely be on our way out.
Brandt: Yes, perhaps some people had the impression that the shot summed up our efforts: that we did so much right, but didn't get the reward at the very end. We went 1-0 down through our own mistakes, but then in the second half we were excellent. We had our chances, but the ball just didn't want to go in. The Swedes didn't have to do much: they were ahead and a draw would have been absolutely fine for them. The time was suddenly slipping away – and we felt that on the field, too. The German national team has always been defined by believing right until the very end, though, and that belief was rewarded on this occasion.
Question: Where were you standing for Kroos' 94th-minute free-kick?
Brandt: I was just in front of the goal, probably about four metres away from the goal-line. I was able to see exactly how the ball went in. After that, the emotions just spilled over.
Question: Did you think beforehand that Kroos would shoot?
Brandt: With the way Marco Reus was standing, you could see how it was meant to play out: that Toni would take it and Marco would trap it for him. At that point I thought that he was probably going to shoot – or at least have a go. He put it perfectly into the corner.
Question: Do you think there's a danger that too much emotional energy was expended against Sweden and the side might be a little bit weaker going into the South Korea game?
Brandt: A game like that can also release energy. We started the tournament with a defeat and didn't play well. We know how things stand now and that you can't be anything less than 100 per cent if you want to beat the opposition here. The win did us a lot of good emotionally because afterwards we all had the feeling that we had really earned it. We know what's riding on the game against South Korea and what the common aim is. I'm certain that we'll be on it again on Wednesday.
Watch: Check out Brandt's top three Bundesliga goals!
Question: South Korea are completely different opposition to Sweden. How do you approach playing against them?
Brandt: We shouldn't change our style of play very much. We need to continue as we have been, and how we played for long periods against Sweden. We need to use lots of short passes, play quickly and put pressure on high up the field. We want to try to trap them in – and it would also be handy if we scored the first goal.
Question: You know Heung-Min Son from your time together at Bayer Leverkusen. What makes him such a good player?
Brandt: He was a fantastic player [at Leverkusen], and has been at least as good for his new club, Tottenham. He's capable of playing off both feet, and is quick and dangerous in front of goal. Although he's nominally a wide player, he scored and created a lot of goals in Leverkusen. He's a fantastic character off the field, too: I was very good friends with him. When a player goes elsewhere, you don't have quite as much contact – that's normal – but Heung-Min is someone who I really rate as both a player and a person. I played against him a couple of summers ago at the Olympics and I'll be pleased to see him again.
Question: Have you chatted on WhatsApp at all?
Brandt: Sometimes it's better to meet up in person. I'll be happy to have a chat with him after the game, but until then all of the focus is just on winning.
Question: To be certain of qualifying, Germany have to win by two goals. What might play in your favour in terms of a starting berth is that you've really impressed in your two appearances from the bench so far. How do you see your role in the team?
Brandt: I've had two brief appearances, both of which were up-and-down – both for the team and me. The positive to take is that the second shot that hit the post was five centimetres closer than the first: the next one should be going in! I see my position just as I did before the tournament: I'm just trying to give it my absolute best, and if I'm brought on for five or ten minutes, then I'll take that. When I get onto the field, I want to bring some fresh impetus and I hope that's evident. Everyone of course has ambitions, but I place mine below those of the team.
Question: What's the spirit like in the group? You've been living together for a month or so now since the training camp.
Brandt: The atmosphere's been quite pleasant. Morale has definitely grown since the Sweden game. Everyone in the team has known each other for several years now, and it's obvious that there's a really impressive mentality. We had a few difficulties imposing our style in the first two games, but as a group we know that we're always capable of extracting ourselves from tricky situations and are tough to beat. The atmosphere, the mentality, being together: everything is in good shape.
Question: Who do you spend most of your time with?
Brandt: With plenty of players actually. I spend a lot of time with Timo [Werner], Platte [Marvin Plattenhardt] and Gore [Leon Goretzka]. We do a lot together off the field. We have a team living room where we have breakfast together and all watch the other World Cup matches.
Question: Is there a division in the squad between the Confederations Cup winners and the World Cup winners as some outside observers have suggested?
Brandt: I don't think so. We all chat together, everyone mixes together and that's been the case for a few weeks. Of course I get on better with some players than others; it's normal that you're not best friends with everyone, but I certainly haven't recognised that sort of behaviour.
Question: Where did you watch Mario Götze's goal in 2014?
Brandt: I was at home with my mum. It was absolutely crazy. The whole city was shaking.
Question: Have you perhaps dreamed about coming on as a substitute at the Luzhniki Stadium on 15 July?
Brandt: To be honest, I don't really enjoy thinking too far ahead. Off the field I think about a week in advance, but for anything longer than that, I'm not best-placed to answer. The most important game is on Wednesday against South Korea. People often say that answer's boring because every footballer says it, but there's something in it. If you only think about being in Moscow on 15 July, then it's hugely unlikely that you'll be playing there.