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Soccer-Kroos no longer going AWOL for Germany in big games

Reuters

By Erik Kirschbaum

SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, June 18 (Reuters) - Toni Kroos has been billed as the most promising midfielder of his generation for year years but the 24-year-old had the unfortunate habit of disappearing in Germany's biggest matches before he turned in a brilliant performance against Portugal.

With two assists and an eye-popping 96 percent accuracy rating with 76 of his 79 passes on target in the 4-0 win on Monday, the midfielder was at the heart of Germany's attack and had arguably the best of his 45 matches for the national side.

"It was a good start for us but nothing more than a start," the ever-humble Kroos told reporters on Wednesday. "We're here with the aim of winning the World Cup. We're going to need to play as well as that in all seven matches."

Kroos has long been an essential part of Bayern Munich's midfield, setting up his team mates with scintillating passes, and he had many sterling performances in the last two seasons.

He helped Bayern win the 2013 Champions League and back-to-back Bundesliga and cup titles in Germany the last two years.

But at international level he faced criticism for going missing in key matches such as Germany's 2-0 semi-final loss to Italy at Euro 2012 and for his role in Germany's 4-4 draw against Sweden in 2013 after they squandered a 4-0 lead.

Kroos bristled at the suggestion at the news conference on Wednesday that he had failed to deliver in big matches. But he admitted his role might not be as glamorous as his team mates who often grab the headlines by scoring goals from his passes.

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"What's important is what the coach and my close friends think about me," said Kroos. "Everything else is secondary."

Kroos has apparently ousted his Bayern team mate Bastian Schweinsteiger as Germany's playmaking midfielder who can also be counted on to bolster coach Joachim Loew's defence - a role that suits him and is similar to the one he plays at Bayern.

Kroos said he was happy with his role setting up his team mates for goals and is not bothered that he only has five goals for Germany and 13 for Bayern in 111 Bundesliga matches in the last four years.

"I'm happy making good precise passes to the guys up front who can do something with them," said Kroos. "That's what I like to do and that's important for the team."

Assistant coach Hansi Flick said Kroos was doing everything Germany expects of him - except maybe scoring more.

"Toni can open up matches with his passing and he sets up goals nicely," said Flick, sitting next to Kroos.

"He richly deserves to be in the starting line-up. The only thing that he's not doing is scoring goals. That's how he can improve."

Kroos, born in the Communist East Germany town of Greifswald just two months after the Berlin Wall fell, was spotted as one of the country's great young talents as a teenager and at 16 moved from Hansa Rostock to Bayern Munich, where he marked his Bundesliga debut at 17 with two assists.

He later spent 18 months on loan at Bayer Leverkusen and has been a regular starter for Bayern since Pep Guardiola arrived in Munich.

Top clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid are reportedly eager to sign Kroos, whose contract with Bayern runs until next July. Kroos told reporters on Wednesday his future was still uncertain.

"There's nothing new for me to report," he said, adding that he had congratulated his Bayern team mates Thomas Mueller (to 2019) and Philipp Lahm (to 2018) for recently extending their contracts with Bayern.

"You'll all find out as soon as there's a new development." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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