Germany’s chances of an unprecedented eighth World Cup final appearance may hinge on a striker who’s scored more times in South Africa than in the domestic league last season.
Miroslav Klose, 32, is two goals short of breaking the all-time tournament scoring record going into tonight’s semifinal with Spain. He had an injury-interrupted campaign for Bayern Munich, where he had just three league goals and made 20 of his 38 appearances in all competitions from the substitutes’ bench.
His four goals in South Africa have lifted his tally over three editions to 14, one behind the record of 15 held by former World Player of the Year Ronaldo. Although Klose gets an opportunity to overtake the Brazilian today, he has other priorities, former players said.
“Klose isn’t playing just to break Ronaldo’s record,” George Weah, the 1995 World Player of the Year, said in an interview. “He loves to score. He plays like a winner and has the desire to score. He plays for the good of the team.”
Polish-born Klose, who moved to Germany when he was 8 years old, scored five goals at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups to help the three-time champion reach at least the semifinals. He was substituted after 74 minutes of the 2002 final, when Ronaldo scored twice to lead Brazil to its fifth title.
“I spoke with Ronaldo after that,” Klose told reporters three days ago in Johannesburg. “At the time I would not have dreamed of ever coming this close to him, needing two goals to surpass him. I hope he’s not too worried.”
Using His Head
All 14 of Klose’s goals on soccer’s biggest stage have come from inside the penalty area, and half have come with headers.
Klose’s first goal in South Africa came after he out-jumped Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to head into the net from near the penalty spot in Germany’s 4-0 win on June 13.
After holding off England defender Matthew Upson to get his team’s first goal in the 4-1 victory in the round of 16, Klose’s 51st and 52nd international goals came in his 100th appearance in the 4-0 rout of Argentina in the quarterfinals.
“He truly is impressive,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said after that match. “He scores more than once every two matches and those statistics don’t need any more comment. He is always able to put in a top quality performance.”
Germany may be more reliant on Klose for goals against European champion Spain because midfielder Thomas Mueller, who’s scored four times in five games, is suspended after getting his second yellow card against Argentina.
Klose and Mueller are among five players tied on four goals at the tournament. One ahead atop the goal-scoring list are Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands and David Villa, a Spaniard who’s closing on some history of his own.
Villa, who has five goals in South Africa, has scored in four straight games, becoming the first player since Ronaldo and fellow Brazilian Rivaldo in 2002 to do so in the World Cup. The record of scoring in six straight games is shared by France’s Just Fontaine and Brazil’s Jairzinho.
Villa has “been the key for Spain,” national teammate Fernando Torres said after the Spaniards’ 1-0 quarterfinal win over Paraguay. “He’s giving us the opportunity to look forward and thinking we can win the World Cup.”
Today’s game in Durban will be a rematch of the 2008 European Championship final, which Spain won 1-0 on a Torres goal to claim its first major trophy since 1964. Its best World Cup performance was fourth place 60 years ago.
With Germany seeking its fourth world championship and first since 1990, Klose said he’ll happily trade individual records for squad success.
“It’s thanks to the team that I have scored so many goals,” Klose said after his double against Argentina. “I’d rather become a World Cup champion than overtake Ronaldo.”