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German stars refute Ozil’s claims of racism, but say furor has taken toll

AFP BERLIN (AFP-Jiji) — Germany stars Manuel Neuer and Thomas Mueller have denied that Mesut Ozil was the victim of racism within the German Football Association (DFB), but admitted the fiasco has taken a toll on the players.

Ozil retired from international soccer last month amid the furor sparked in May when he and fellow midfielder Ilkay Gundogan met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which raised questions about the pair’s loyalty to Germany.

After Ozil and Gundogan, who were born in Germany to Turkish parents, were booed by German fans in pre-World Cup friendlies, the latter said the meeting was not politically motivated.

The 29-year-old Ozil refused to comment, only breaking his silence following Germany’s shock early exit from the finals in Russia, when he quit the national team on July 22 and accused DFB president Reinhard Grindel of racism with his parting shot.

However, Neuer, who is captain of both Bayern Munich and Germany, denied any claims of racism within the national team.

“We’ve always tried to integrate all the players and we’ve also done everything for our teammates to make them feel good going into games,” said Neuer at Bayern’s preseason training camp in southern Bavaria.

The goalkeeper admitted Ozil’s comments have affected those who still play for Germany.

“There has been a lot of back and forth with much written and said about it. Of course, it was very stressful for those who read about it,” he said.

Only a handful of players have spoken about the scandal and head coach Joachim Loew has yet to comment.

“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil in an explosive three-part statement a fortnight ago, sparking a racism storm in Germany and triggering fierce debate about integration.

The Arsenal midfielder was singled out by some corners of the German media as a reason for the World Cup debacle, but Grindel, who has refused calls to resign, later refuted the racism allegations.

On Friday, Neuer’s Bayern teammate Mueller also insisted “there is no question of racism within the national team,” but accepted the saga was damaging for all protagonists.

“The debate was fueled from the outside and the protagonists didn’t come out with any credit, neither on the side of the association nor the players themselves,” he said.

Mueller described the saga as a “hypocritical discussion, which is supported by the media” and finds it alarming “that we spread such a topic ... with relish and then we wonder why society is divided.”

“We should all look at ourselves before we criticize others,” he added.

Lampard off to winning start

LONDON (AFP-Jiji) — Former Chelsea and England star Frank Lampard enjoyed a winning start to his managerial career on Friday when Derby County sealed a come-from-behind 2-1 triumph at Reading with a last-minute goal in the English League Championship.

Tom Lawrence headed in the winner in the fourth minute of injury time from a cross by Mason Bennett just as the game — the opening fixture in the new season — seemed to be meandering towards a draw.

His header sparked wild celebrations in the away dugout at the Madejski Stadium.

“We have to enjoy this moment. It’s incredible character,” Lampard, 40, told Sky Sports. “We were poor in the first half. Second half we showed some character. Mason Bennett’s come on and whipped in the most incredible cross from the right and Tom gets the header. An incredible moment.

“I’m sorry for Reading because they really didn’t deserve to lose that game for sure, but we’ve made our own luck today.”Speech

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