Ilkay Gundogan says he was happy to have been applauded by sections of the crowd as he came on as a substitute for Germany in the 0-0 draw with France in their Nations League opener in Munich on Thursday night.
Germany were playing on home soil for the first time since their pre-World Cup friendly against Saudi Arabia when, with Mesut Ozil rested, Gundogan was booed by fans for having his photo taken with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It was a foreshadowing of the events leading to Ozil’s withdrawal from the national team at the age of 29 — citing racism at the top of the German FA and parts of the German public and media — and a wider debate over football and culture in the country.
But on Thursday, Gundogan came off the bench for midfielder Leon Goretzka midway through the second half, and while there were some whistles at the Allianz Arena, other parts applauded the Manchester City man.
“I was nervous when I was getting ready on the bench,” Gundogan told reporters after the game. “I don’t need to be fearful, but there was nervousness because I didn’t know what to expect.
“I was happy there was applause. I applauded back and could focus on the match from that moment on. I can return home with a smile.”
Though Germany did not get the result they would have wanted over World Cup winners France, defender Mats Hummels insisted that they have learned this lessons from the summer.
Germany played their worst World Cup in 80 years in Russia, having been knocked out in the group stage and unable to keep a clean sheet in their matches against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.
But, playing with two centre-backs, Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter, at full-back and moving left-back Joshua Kimmich into holding midfield, Germany’s plan was clear.
“We drew our lessons from the World Cup,” Hummels told ZDF TV. “We put a bigger focus on defensive stability. We did a good job, and we can build on this.”
Thomas Muller added that it was key to keep Germany’s first clean sheet since the 0-0 in the England friendly at Wembley in November 2017.
“Especially in the first half, we did not take too many risks going forward,” he said. “We wanted a clean sheet. Following our late surge, we could have even won the match.
“If the people see that we bend over backwards for our country, and also the national team and those in the stadium, then it’s the first step. We wanted to show that we have a heart. I think we achieved it.”