Gdansk, Poland – Rising star Lars Bender has said his first start and goal for Germany will stay long in the memory after his winning strike set up Friday's Euro 2012 quarter-final against Greece.
The Bayer Leverkusen midfielder came in at right-back for the suspended Jerome Boateng against Denmark on Sunday and the 23-year-old converted Mesut Ozil's pass to seal the 2-1 win which confirmed Germany as Group B winners.
Joachim Loew's team will now face Group A runners-up Greece in Gdansk, Poland, where the Germans are based for the European championships.
Having made his debut just before Euro 2004, Arsenal-bound striker Lukas Podolski scored his 44th goal on his 100th international appearance on 19 minutes.
Denmark equalised just five minutes later through Michael Krohn-Dehli before Bender scored the winner ten minutes from time.
After a season in a mediocre Leverkusen team, Bender's place in the 23-man squad was far from assured and he made the cut at the expense of twin brother Sven, who was in last season's league and cup-winning Borussia Dortmund squad.
Boateng's suspension threw Bender in at the deep-end for only his ninth international appearance and he admitted to being slightly shocked at scoring with his chance and admitted his place is far from assured.
“It was quite lucky that I happened to be in the right place at the right time, but you don't stop to think about it, you just hit it,” said Bender.
“It's true that I'm not used to playing in the (right-back) position, but I played there in our warm-up matches for this tournament and I did well.
“The manager believed in me and that's why I felt very much at ease playing there, but my feet are firmly on the ground.
“I'm glad I got the opportunity and topped off my performance with a goal, which got us the win.
“That's the biggest source of pleasure for me, but, of course, it's not certain that I'll be playing in the starting team.”
He might be more accustomed to a midfield berth, but the statistics show Bender slotted seamlessly into the right-back role as another rising German star put his hand up for a place in Loew's starting XI.
Ozil's final pass may have been intended for striker Miroslav Klose, but it was Bender's tireless running which put him in the right place at the right time to score the 80th-minute winner.
The stats back up Bender's eye-catching performance.
With a high pass-completion rate of 81 percent, he ran 11.34km, the second highest in the Germany team, putting in a lung-bursting 97 sprints over the 90 minutes.
Having won the so-called “Group of Death”, captain Philipp Lahm said his side can take plenty of confidence into the knock-out stages as the Germans carried their 100 percent record from their qualifying campaign into the finals.
“All the games were difficult, but three games, three wins, we've walked through the group,” said Lahm after his side also enjoyed victories over Portugal and Holland.
“We have backed up our billing for the group stage and confirmed what we've been working on in recent years.
“It hasn't just come of its own accord, we have a lot of quality in our squad, we've said that from the start, and we've shown that again.” – Sapa-AFP