By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, July 9 (Reuters) - Germany midfielder Toni Kroos not only silenced Brazil's fans with his scintillating performance in Tuesday's astonishing 7-1 World Cup semi-final victory but also countless critics back home as well.
Annoyed by lingering accusations that he might have been largely to blame for Germany's lacklustre semi-final defeat by Italy two years ago at Euro 2012, Kroos played arguably the best of his 50 matches for Germany on Tuesday.
"I'm in a great mood and I'm feeling fit - that's why I was able to come up with a performance like this," he told reporters after helping Germany reach Sunday's final.
"For me personally that was one of my better matches for Germany but I've had a lot of other good matches too," Kroos said when asked if it was his best game for the national side.
"I'd agree that it was the team's best performance, especially in such a match like the semi-final against Brazil. It was extraordinary."
Kroos's improvement epitomised Germany's progression as they surged into overdrive against Brazil after uninspiring victories over the United States, Algeria and France by a one-goal margin as well as a 2-2 draw against Ghana before that.
Man of the match after scoring twice against Brazil - his first at the World Cup - Kroos was directly involved in Germany's first four goals.
Kroos then scored the next two himself, one with his left foot and the other with his right.
"He's in great form right now," said Germany coach Joachim Loew. "The things he does on the pitch always lead to something. He's been helping the team enormously in the last two years, helping to create a lot of chances."
The 24-year-old Kroos, the team's only starter born in East Germany, has been billed as the most promising talent of his generation for years and has been one of the driving forces behind Bayern Munich's success since 2012.
But there were some blemishes on his record for Germany.
When their entertaining, high-scoring team side 2-1 to Italy at Euro 2012, Kroos became a scapegoat for going missing while being outfoxed by master Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
The criticism may have been unfairly focused on Kroos but the tag stuck that he could not deliver in the big matches.
When Germany squandered a 4-0 lead against Sweden in a World Cup qualifier in Berlin and had to settle for a 4-4 draw four months later, Kroos was again singled out for disappearing during the chaotic final 20 minutes.
The normally down-to-earth Kroos was still touchy about that criticism even after playing well in Germany's opening 4-0 World Cup win against Portugal. He snapped at a journalist who asked about why he sometimes disappeared in key matches for Germany.
"Then you haven't seen many of my matches," he said before listing several performances in Champions League games for Bayern without mentioning any highlights for Germany.
No one would doubt Kroos's importance to Germany at the World Cup and the upturn in his fortunes could hardly have come at a better time. He has been top of Germany's possession and successful passing statistics all through the tournament.
His two goals on Tuesday brought his career total for Germany to seven.
Kroos was spotted as a teenager and at 16 moved from Hansa Rostock to Bayern, where he marked his Bundesliga debut at 17 with two assists. He spent 18 months on loan at Bayer Leverkusen and has been a regular for Bayern since Pep Guardiola arrived last year.
However, right now Kroos is just focusing on Sunday's final against either the Netherlands or Argentina when Germany will try to win a fourth World Cup and their first since 1990.
"Despite the great performance against Brazil we're here to win the World Cup and we're not there yet," he said. "We've still got one more step to go." (Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Ken Ferris)