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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Monday, June 30, 2008
Sports

Star Sport
Euro Special

No Mullers on the horizon

Once more, Germany are in the final of a European Championship, their sixth.

Yet despite the country's impeccable record there is one piece of the jigsaw which Die Mannschaft has been trying in vain to fit for more than 30 years.

A true, dyed-in-the-wool number nine who can call himself the new Gerd Muller.

With 10 goals in five games the German strikeforce, ably backed up by midfielders Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger, are hardly impotent - yet comprises, in Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, two men who hail from the Silesia region of Poland.

The pair's credentials are not in question as they have now scored 69 international goals between them.

That's just one more than 'Der Bomber' netted - in only 62 outings - for the Germans in an international career stretching from 1966 to 1974, culminating in a World Cup final win over Holland.

Yet since his day, despite their regular strong showings at major events the Germans have never quite managed to unearth the New Muller, the hitman in a Bayern Munich side which dominated the European game in the mid-1970s.

Since he left the scene, Rudi Voller, Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uwe Seeler - and now Klose - have managed to break the 40-goal barrier.

Yet not one of today's generation of forwards clad in the famous white shirt at Euro 2008 is actually German.

Aside from Podolski's and Klose's strong links to Poland, in reserve are Brazilian-born Kevin Kuranyi and half-Spanish Mario Gomez, whose father is Spanish-born, as well as Swiss-born Oliver Neuville.

Coach Joachim Loew has not let the nationality issue bother him.

"With Klose, Kuranyi, Podolski, Gomez and Neuville we are blessed with strikers of incredible quality who can score in all kinds of situations," Loew said going into the tournament.

Yet however German or not the current forwards, none is a throwback to a glorious past, when number nines from Helmuth Rahn, nicknamed "The Boss" and a star of the 1954 World Cup win, to barrel-chested Horst Hrubesch, match-winner in the 1980 Euro final, ruled the roost.

Since then the domestic production line has seemingly ground to a halt - hence the move to cast the net further afield as far as Brazil for the likes of Kuranyi and previously Paulo Roberto Rink and Ghana's Gerald Asamoah - the first black African player to make the German squad.

Had Loew been able to name a larger squad he might have gone for Borussia Moenchengladbach striker Marko Marin - but he is Bosnian-born.

And of course Loew was unable to contemplate calling up the Bundesliga top scorer given that Bayern's Luca Toni is Italian - though he drew a blank at the Euros anyway.

Whatever the merits of Klose and Podolski this German team has made it to the final with an average of only 4.6 shots on goal per game - an indicator of German efficiency if ever there was one, given their 0.5 shots to goals ratio.

Perhaps the burden of history lies lighter on the shoulders of the Polish-born pair, whose commitment to Germany is not in the slightest doubt given their goal hauls to date.

The first man who tried to be the new Gerd Muller was Klaus Toppmoller, who as a coach in 2002 - with Ballack in his side - would lead Bayern Leverkusen to a 'treble' of runner-up finishes in league, Cup and Champions League.

He soon fell by the wayside as a player, winning only three caps.

"Toppmoller will never be a Topp-Muller," was the cutting comment which summed up the stunted international career of young Klaus, despite Muller himself saying after a league match in which Toppmoller scored a hattrick against Bayern: "He's my successor."

Three decades on, nobody has assumed the Muller mantle. But in the modern game goalscoring has increasingly become the prerogative of the midfielder - witness the importance of Ballack and Schweinsteiger.

Both of them are as German as the Munich beer festival.

But he will happily drink to the health of Germany's "foreign" forwards if one of the latter scores the winner against Spain on Sunday.

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