Euro 2012: Germany looking for 1st title since '96
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -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, Dennis Aogo's father is Nigerian, 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.''