Country before club? Why Klose rallies to the cause

The days were sliding away towards the World Cup and the man who may yet become the greatest goalscorer in the tournament's history spent them bathed in sweat and anxiety.

The climax of Miroslav Klose's domestic season with Bayern Munich would, in normal circumstances, have been the European Cup final against Internazionale. He didn't expect to start and no centre-forward who had scored three league goals for his club would have. He spent 28 minutes on the pitch at the Bernabeu and did not have a shot to speak of.

Klose is a straightforward man, who trained as a carpenter so he would have a trade to fall back on if football failed him, and he turned to the only thing he knew – hard work. He trained with the rest of Joachim Löw's German squad and then he trained some more, alone.

"I knew I was on probation with the national team and the only thing that would help was to train as I had never trained before," he said. "I did two workouts a day and that was apart from the work I did with the team. I did power work for my legs and torso. There were shuttle runs, sprinting, resistance training with a rubber band attached to my torso. By the end of it, I had lost five kilos but I was confident I would do well at the World Cup."

Others were not so sure. Even Löw admitted after two friendlies with Bosnia and Hungary, in which the striker had been thoroughly eclipsed by Cacau, that taking Klose was a risk. Yes, he had won the Golden Boot in Germany four years before but that was on the back of a phenomenal season with Werder Bremen that had seen him score 31 times in 40 matches. Here, Klose was coming to South Africa with the same number of league goals as Emile Heskey – and he would be the same age, 32, when the tournament started.

But unlike Heskey he had 48 international goals, a rate slightly better than one every other game. Löw was entitled to trust him in the opener against Australia. One of Klose's greatest qualities is that he is very brave. Some might not have risked flinging their head towards Mark Schwarzer's gloves as he came to meet Philipp Lahm's cross but Klose did, producing the kind of headed finish that Alan Shearer would have recognised.

After 99 caps, Klose has 20 more goals than the lion of Gosforth, two more than Gary Lineker, and one more than anyone who has ever slipped on an England shirt. And the consensus is that he is such a limited player, a throwback to another footballing age.

However, it is precisely because he recognises his own limitations that Klose is a success. "If you spend any time with him, you might think he is withdrawn or endlessly self-critical," said Löw yesterday. "But the key to him is that he understands his strengths and his weaknesses – he knows what he can do and what he can't."

His manager describes Klose as a modest man. When the German press compared him to Ruud van Nistelrooy, Klose thought it ridiculous. As someone who spent the first six years of his life in Silesia, the part of Germany that was swallowed by Poland after the war in 1945 and who still speaks Polish at home, he has always been something of an outsider.

Löw explained how before every international, he spends time with his players, individually, encouraging them, cajoling them, sometimes reassuring them. Throughout this World Cup, he has attempted to relax the squad; taking them on safari before they faced England last Sunday and then arranging a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his imprisonment, prior to this afternoon's quarter-final against Argentina in Cape Town. His predecessor, Jürgen Klinsmann, said that Klose appreciates this personal touch more than most.

And when Klose ran on to the long upfield punt from Manuel Neuer in Bloemfontein, held off Matthew Upson and stretched himself to the limit to poke the ball past David James, you wonder whether he could have done it without all that repetitive weight training and all those lonely shuttle runs.

Attention England Squad: Some players raise their game on international duty

Richard Kingson

Ghana's goalkeeper has impressed during the finals, but is third choice at Wigan, where he has made only four appearances in two seasons. Kingson previously played for six clubs in Turkey over seven years in an unremarkable club career.

Asamoah Gyan

Ghana's star man at the World Cup, Gyan has scored only 11 goals in two seasons at the French club Rennes. Always performs for the national side, however, and fast closing in on the Black Stars' goalscoring record.

Robert Vittek

Journeyman striker now plays for Ankaragucu, who finished mid-table in the Turkish league last season. Slovakia's record scorer, he netted four times at the country's first World Cup finals as an independent nation.

Lukas Podolski

A failure at Bayern Munich, Podolski returned to his boyhood club Cologne, where he has scored only seven goals in 27 games. When the Poland-born striker puts on a German shirt, however, he's prolific, with two goals so far at these finals.

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Has excelled with Ghana where he failed with Portsmouth last season, after only being cleared to play for his father's country in May. Finally looking like the player Martin Jol spent £5.4m to bring to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007.

Robinho

Struggled to live up to the £32.5m price tag Manchester City paid for him two years ago, but if he reproduced his form for Brazil at Eastlands he'd be worth every penny.

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