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Lukas Podolski has a habit of defying his critics with his performances for Germany, and so it proved again last night as he helped inspire a 6-1 defeat of Azerbaijan.
The 1. FC Köln striker found himself under question after a below-par performance in Germany's 1-0 away win against Belgium – even from one of his greatest champions, coach Joachim Löw. But in front of his home fans in Cologne, Podolski was at his best, going close three times early on before unselfishly setting up Heiko Westermann to open the scoring. He then added a second just before the break as Germany went top of Group A.
This is nothing new for the 25-year-old, who had a disappointing 2009/10 campaign back at Köln following three frustrating seasons with FC Bayern München. However, during the FIFA World Cup he recaptured the form that won fans' hearts four years earlier on home soil. "
It was fun today, especially as it was here in Cologne," Podolski said. "I just wanted to put in a good performance, which did not work out for me against Belgium. I don't care about what people say, it is not about personal satisfaction, only the win counts. Today, this was another step forward for me in my 'front room'."
Löw was quick to praise his team, and his forward. "It is joy to watch this team play," the coach said. "You can see that the team are well-drilled, that things are working. You could note that Podolski was willing to run quite a lot. Lukas proves his strength in the national team over and over again. His goal tally speaks for itself."
It is a similar story for Miroslav Klose, once Podolski's strike partner at Bayern. Before the World Cup, Löw had been asked why he was even taking the frontman to South Africa, let along starting with him. The 32-year-old responded by scoring four goals to help Germany to third place, and has now began UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with the winner in Belgium and two more last night.
He was quick to praise his long-standing international colleague. "Everyone knows how good a player Podolski is," Klose said. "I am convinced that he always wants to perform. He is not influenced by others but simply goes out and does his thing. That is one of his strengths."
As usual, Klose was more reluctant to speak of his own feats. "For me, it was easy today, the ball fell to my feet twice and I just had to tap it in," he said. "If the team works like they did today and create chances, then it is easy for a striker."
Things will be much tougher in Berlin on 8 October, when Germany welcome Turkey, who also won twice this week. Klose said: "It was our plan to get six points from the two games. It will be a different matter against Turkey, but we have qualities in our team with which we can hurt them."
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