Dynamite TEUTONS

MIROSLAV KLOSE'S game has changed from the time of the 2002 World Cup.-AP

Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have done enough to be remembered forever as the `front office' of Juergen Klinsmann's `New Germany' irrespective of whether their team can repeat the home World Cup win achieved by Gerd Mueller and Co. in 1974, writes N. U. Abilash.

Spare a thought for Miroslav Klose. The 28-year-old German striker might have danced his way across the Swedish goalmouth at the edge of the area, drawn three defenders to him, and effortlessly slipped a reverse pass to his unmarked striking partner Lukas Podolski to set up his country's second goal in the second round no-contest. But, when he rejoined the German set-up for the friendlies prior to the World Cup, after missing the 2005 Confederations Cup because of a knee injury, he might well have thought that he had entered the wrong dressing room.

One look at his new manager, Juergen Klinsmann — former striker and World Cup winner of 1990 who caused much consternation to his then manager Franz Beckenbauer by playing like a Brazilian — would have been enough to imbue Klose's mind with a sense of contrast that was anything but fine. His previous international manager Rudi Voeller — ironically Klinsmann's strike partner in Italy 1990 — exemplified the German work ethic of cold efficiency above creativity. Voeller openly stated during World Cup 2002 that watching Klose, his main striker, he was reminded of himself. Klose scored five goals, all headers executed with maximum skill and technique, in Korea and Japan and finished second to Ronaldo as the leading scorer of the tournament.

And now, Klinsmann — who had taken over from Voeller after Germany's disastrous first round exit in Euro '04 — was exhorting the team, and himself, to be the main contributors to the party atmosphere that they would be having in June and July as enshrined in the larger home World Cup philosophy of making friends. "My goal at the start of the tournament was not just to play till July 9 but also show a completely new German face to the world," said Klinsmann in a recent interview. "I decided that Germany would play fast, and very creative football."

How can Klose, a supposed Voeller clone, ever fit into Klinsmann's brief, the striker would have wondered in the lead-up to the big event. Captain Michael Ballack, marrying his superb ball skills with wonderful vision and imagination, will certainly fit in, Klose must have thought. So would attacking full-back Philipp Lahm, left-midfielder Bastian Schwiensteiger, winger David Odonkor and strike partner Lukas Podolski. But, could he metamorphose into what Klinsmann needed him to be?

Klose tried. And though his four strikes in Germany's group matches all had the classical Voeller predator stamp all over them, Klinsmann took notice that Klose was creating opportunities from out of nothing for Podolski, who broke his two-match goal drought against Ecuador and then added two more to his tally against Sweden with Klose having a hand in both the goals. Klose had succeeded, just as he had so wonderfully assimilated into German society as a seven-year-old immigrant who had newly crossed the Polish border with his Polish international footballer father Josef and Polish handball international mother Barbara.

Podolski, 21, also a Polish immigrant, didn't need to work very hard on perfecting assimilation techniques; his parents crossed the border when he was just two years old. Perhaps in keeping with his different history of social assimilation, Podolski is a natural force on the field, combining excellent technique and dribbling skills with enormous power and speed as if there never has been a contradiction between `touch' and `thump'.

So popular is Podolski in Germany that he has joined captain Ballack as the face of adidas, and Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich is planning to market him, their new signing, as the next club idol following Ballack's move to Chelsea this summer.

PODOLSKI'S HEIGHT, his power-packed shots from inside and outside the area and his touch, control and speed have made former forward Karl-Heinze Rummenigge relive his peak.-AP

Klose in 2002 flashed images of himself in Voeller's mind and has remarkably transformed himself in the 2006 World Cup to indicate that he can carry on the tradition of the fast, dribbling German centre-forward, which was introduced by the legendary striker Gerd Mueller and followed by Klinsmann. Podolski, though, has caused much excitement to yet another legendary German centre-forward and the president of his soon-to-be club, Karl-Heinze Rummenigge. Podolski's height, his power-packed shots from inside and outside the area and his touch, control and speed have made Rummenigge relive his peak. "I played in two World Cup finals (1982 and 1986), but lost both. Lukas will be Germany's main weapon in the coming few World Cups. I wish him better luck," said Rummenigge before the World Cup began.

If ever anybody needed Rummenigge's wishes at that point of time, it was Klose, who finished runner-up to Brazil in 2002. The man who must be a second-prize candidate for pulling off the most amazing transformation of individual style in modern football — Thierry Henry will walk away with first prize for the wonder metamorphosis from winger to centre forward — needs to get his partnership with Podolski working overtime for the next three matches if Germany is to climb the summit in front of its delirious home crowd.

The Germans will take heart from the fact that one of the teams they have to face in the maximum of three possible matches is Argentina, who have been early favourites to lift their third title after their impressive first two group matches. In 1990, the last time Germany won the title, their opponents in the final was the South American nation led by the world's most popular player of the last century, Diego Maradona. Germany had Klinsmann and Voeller upfront then, backed by the vision and efficiency of playmaker captain Lothar Matthaus. Ballack, who is creatively superior to Matthaus but not as precise or accurate in ball distribution, completes the triangle this time.

THOUGH KLOSE'S (left) four strikes in Germany's group matches had the classical Rudi Voeller predator stamp all over them, manager Klinsmann took notice that Klose was creating opportunities from out of nothing for strike partner Podolski.-AP

Like other German football fans and players, Klose and Podolski would be appreciating left-back Philipp Lahm's surging runs at the same time noting that in 1990 and 1974, overlapping full-backs Andreas Brehme and Paul Brietner contributed to the title victory. Brietner was superb in the Michael Ballack role in the 1982 World Cup, and his partnership with Rummenigge inspired that famous German semifinal comeback against France though the team lost the title match to a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy.

If Klinsmann's boys get past Argentina, there is the likelihood of a semifinal showdown against their great European rival, Italy, also three-time title winners and now spearheaded by the strike partnership of Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino. In early March this year, Marcello Lippi's side delivered a knockout 4-1 blow to Germany in a friendly in Florence at a time when Klinsmann was still experimenting with formations and his new all-out attacking style. Klinsmann had to face a lot of criticism then for his experimentations, not the least from Beckenbauer, who also had a few nasty words about the manager not moving to Germany permanently from his Californian residence. But Beckenbauer is now convinced that he was wrong. "Klinsmann's Germany has proved everybody, including me, wrong," said `The Kaiser'. "They have been passionate and convincing in this tournament and have contributed to the success of the competition."

Klose and Podolski have done enough to be remembered forever as the `front office' of Klinsmann's `New Germany' irrespective of whether their team can repeat the home World Cup win achieved by Mueller and Co.

GERMANY'S FIVE GEMS Uwe Seeler

Was Germany's main striker in the four World Cups between the triumphs in 1954 and 1974 and scored in all the four editions. Total of 43 goals for his country, and his best result was a final appearance in 1966.

Gerd Mueller

The greatest ever German centre-forward, he is the all-time leading goal scorer for his country (68) and was the World Cup top scorer with 14 goals, a record which Ronaldo equalled when he scored his second goal against Japan in the current World Cup. He scored 10 goals in the 1970 World Cup and won the 1974 edition in Germany scoring four goals. The short striker was known as much for his dribbling skills and acceleration over short distances as for his aerial prowess.

Karl-Heinze Rummenigge

Never won a World Cup, but finished as the losing finalist in 1982 and 1986, when he was past his prime. He scored 45 international goals and was as much noted for his physical presence, power and speed as for his silken touch and control. For a brief while in the early 1980s, he, along with Diego Maradona, was considered the best footballer in the world.

Rudi Voeller

The losing finalist in 1986, he won the World Cup in 1990. Along with 1990 strike partner Juergen Klinsmann, he is the second highest scorer for his country with 47 goals. He also scored two goals coming off the bench as a 34-year-old in the 1994 tournament. His clinical efficiency as a finisher is comparable to Mueller's though he lacks the legend's creativity and flair.

Shared Mueller's creativity and dribbling skills but was slightly error-prone in finishing when compared with the legend. He scored three goals in the successful 1990 World Cup campaign, and added five more in 1994 when he was at his peak though Germany was upset by Bulgaria in the quarterfinal. He scored another three goals in the 1998 event, his last, in which Germany was again beaten in the quarterfinal, this time by Croatia.