He may look a little out of place rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ronaldo, Pelé, Gerd Müller and Just Fontaine, but the statistics cannot lie: Miroslav Klose is now level with German icon Müller on 14 FIFA World Cup finals goals. One more and he will match Ronaldo's record of 15. Two more, and the honour is his alone.
The 32-year-old FC Bayern München striker scored five in his first World Cup finals campaign in 2002 – including three in an 8-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia – and repeated those numbers in 2006, making him that tournament's top marksman. Four more in South Africa have kept his total rattling along, so one of his footballing heroes may be watching nervously when Germany meet Spain in Wednesday's semi-final.
"I met Ronaldo after the 2002 final," said Klose. "At the time I would never have dreamed of coming this close to emulating him – needing two more goals to surpass him. I hope he's not too worried."
Klose's World Cup bounty contrasts starkly with a forgettable season at Bayern, where he was given only four full 90-minute runouts in 25 league appearances. He scored just three times in those outings – his worst haul since turning professional at 1. FC Kaiserslautern in 2000/01.
In that context, many questioned Joachim Löw's decision to bring Klose to South Africa, but the coach held firm, insisting in the run-up to the finals: "Miro's form is getting better all the time." Lukas Podolski – who arguably had an even worse campaign at 1. FC Köln – received a similar vote of confidence; another move that looks a masterstroke in retrospect.
Both were on target in Germany's 4-0 opening win against Australia as Löw's men showed a hitherto unknown fluidity and attacking verve. Adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation, the team were inspired by the exuberance of 21-year-old Werder Bremen attacking midfielder Mesut Özil, a star of Germany's success at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Such pleasant surprises have come all over the pitch: Sami Khedira has deputised ably for injured captain Michael Ballack, Arne Friedrich has shone at centre-back, Bastian Schweinsteiger has been transformed from going-nowhere winger to world-class holding midfielder, and Bayern forward Thomas Müller is a good bet to be named the tournament's best young player.
The style may not be quintessentially Teutonic, but the spirit links them firmly to the West Germany sides that won the competition in 1954, 1974 and 1990. After the 4-0 pummelling of hotly tipped Argentina, Müller said: "Once again, we have given a great team performance. We all play at our limit, everyone gives their all for success and it is unbelievable what we are achieving here."
Next up are Spain, the side that beat Germany 1-0 in the UEFA EURO 2008 final. In Vienna, the gulf in class was evident, but now, who knows? Vicente del Bosque's men are unlikely to give Germany the freedom in midfield that resulted in England and Argentina being ripped apart. Yet as he prepares for his 101st national-team appearance, Klose has his heart set on another coup.
"If I score two more goals I will be delighted, but I am more interested in what we do as a team," he said. "If we end this tournament winning the World Cup, that would be far more important than any goals I score." Spoken like a true legend.
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