Euro 2012: Germany looking for 1st title since ’96

When Germany travels to Gdansk to set up its European

Championship base in Poland, two of its stars will be going

home.

Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were both born in Poland but

raised in Germany. Both chose long ago to play for their adopted

nation and have done that with extraordinary success.

With a combined 209 matches and 106 goals for Germany, the pair

will be playing in Poland and Ukraine alongside a young but already

experienced team.

”We’ve been together for five years now and it’s always special

to play for Germany,” Podolski said. ”We have a super team.”

Klose will turn 34 on the day Germany opens its campaign against

Portugal on June 9 in Kharkiv. Germany chose to set up base in

Poland although all three of its group matches are in Ukraine.

Klose, with 63 goals in 114 games, is only five goals behind

Gerd Mueller’s record of 68. He has been coach Joachim Loew’s

first-choice striker, but the Lazio forward has not played since

March after tearing thigh muscles and it remains to be seen of

he’ll recover in time for the opening match.

”Match practice is important. But it could be an even bigger

advantage to go to the Euros completely rested,” Klose said. ”I

don’t think I need to worry.”

Klose has gone into previous major tournaments after injuries

and it did not prevent him from coming through and playing well –

and scoring goals. With 14 World Cup goals, he is one behind the

record of Brazil striker Ronaldo. Klose hopes to play through the

World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

”Because of my vast experience I know when and what I need to

do for my body,” Klose said.

Loew knows that, too, but says it remains to be seen whether

Klose can get himself fit in time for the opening match. And

another injury worry for Loew is Arsenal central defender Per

Mertesacker, who has not played since ankle surgery in

February.

”Neither has played nor trained for months. We have to see if

we can get them up to speed in two or three weeks of training

camp,” Loew said. ”I’ll have to evaluate whether they can help us

already in the first match against Portugal or if another player is

in better condition.”

While Klose is the veteran on the team, Podolski is still

approaching his zenith – even with 95 games for Germany behind him

before his 27th birthday on June 4.

Podolski says one of the highlights of his career was Germany’s

game against Poland at Euro 2008, when he scored both goals in a

2-0 win.

”I’ve been to many tournaments already but this was one of the

special matches,” said Podolski, who is leaving Cologne and moving

to Arsenal.

Germany has not won a title since clinching the third of its

European titles in 1996. The Germans were runners-up at the 2002

World Cup, third in 2006 and 2010, and runners-up at Euro 2008.

Klose and Podolski are not the only players with immigrant

backgrounds. Defender Jerome Boateng’s father is from Ghana,

midfielder Sami Khedira has Tunisian roots, and Mesut Oezil has

Turkish ancestry. The last two have added flair to the traditional

German values, which makes Loew’s team an even more fearsome

opponent.

Already key Germany players at the 2010 World Cup, both have

gained top-level experience by playing for Real Madrid.

”The Spaniards have a strong team, but we’ve gotten closer,

we’ve gotten better,” Oezil said. ”Our goal is to win the

title.”

Germany lost to Spain in the Euro 2008 final and in the 2010

World Cup semifinals, both times losing 1-0. But Germany could be

bolstered by Bayern Munich’s success over Real Madrid in the

semifinals of the Champions League.

Bayern’s success could throw some disarray into Loew’s usually

meticulous preparations, however, because eight players will not be

joining training camp until after the Champions League final on May

19.

”Three and a half weeks of preparations with the complete squad

would have been ideal,” Loew said. ”With a young team every day

of training is important but our foundation is much more solid than

before. The players are more familiar with our philosophy.

”Four years ago we would not have been able to deal with such a

situation.”