Klose ties all-time World Cup record
Miroslav Klose had promised himself he would keep his feet on the ground at the big moment. It wasn't possible. "I didn't want to do it, but it took control of me," the 36-year-old striker told reporters at the Costelão stadium in Fortaleza. "So I tried it. And you could see I'm out of practice".
The 69th-minute-substitute was a bit harsh on himself; his front flip after the 2-2 equaliser against Ghana wasn't that badly executed. It used to be his trademark celebration but he had stopped doing it a few years ago, wary that his aging body could do without the extra strain. The non-plussed manner in which he recalled the situation to reporters in the mixed zone made it difficult to know whether he really was a little miffed about not quite getting the jump right or about getting carried away in the moment.
Klose never gets carried away.
He then went on to talk about his goal in very technical terms. "I speculated that the ball might get flicked on (from the corner), I was sure that I'm not offside, and I knew that if I touched the ball it would be a goal," the Lazio striker said, "I had the right nose straight away. A nice goal".
It was more than that, of course, but the late-bloomer who came from seventh-division football for SG Blaubach-Diedelkopf as a 19-year-old to score in his fourth World Cup was reluctant to address the wider issue. "I was happy that it was the equaliser (in the game)", he said, "you will write the rest".
The "rest" is this: Klose's short-range finish equalised Brazilian Ronaldo's goal-scoring record at World Cups, and it broke that of national icon Gerd Müller, who had scored fourteen times for (West) Germany. After some prompting, Klose did admit that catching up with the Brazilian -- and the chance to overtake him -- was "intriguing", an "itch" that he wanted to scratch.
"Those who know me, know that I want to be first," he said. On German television, he allowed himself the smallest of smiles. "20 World Cup games, 15 goals, not bad," he shrugged.
Ronaldo, who had asked Brazilian supporters in Fortaleza to "use their energy against Klose and Germany" 10 days ago, congratulated via twitter. "Willkommen im klub," the 37-year-old wrote. German for "welcome to the club".
Klose seemed more interested to discuss the team's prospect after a game that left Germany unsure whether they should be disappointed (about the failure to ensure qualification for the next round) or pleased (with the reaction after going behind against a very committed Ghana side). "The result doesn't really change much for us," he said. "We would have wanted to win the last game against the U.S. anyway. Now we'll have more pressure. But the team knows pressure. They're used to it".
Captain Philipp Lahm, who had been at fault for Ghana's second goal (by Asamoah Gyan) with a rare misplaced ball, was more critical of his side's performance. "We can't be satisfied", said the Bayern Munich player, "we didn't keep the ball well enough, our positioning wasn't good and our build-up play wasn't smart".
The 30-year-old could agree, however, that Klose had rescued Germany with his goal. "Top," said Lahm, "I wouldn't mind if he scored one, two or three more in the tournament".
Klose had already broken Müller's all-time record of 68 international goals for Germany in the 6-1 friendly vs. Armenia a week before the start of the Brazil World Cup. Then, too, he expressed pride about these numbers, but humbly rejected the notion that he had now somehow overtaken "Der Bomber" in terms of importance or achievement.
"It's an absolute joke to compare me with Gerd Müller," he said, "no one compares to him, no one." The Bayern Munich striker had needed only 62 games for his 68 goals, Klose reached the same tally after 132 matches. "I would never mention myself in the same breath as Gerd Müller," he said a year before.
Klose wasn't shy to talk about the dedication that had got him this far, however. The son of Polish immigrants -- his father Josef managed to move his family from the Communist country to Kusel, Rhineland-Palatinate, in 1986 because he could prove German ethnicity -- grew up without receiving a specialist footballing education. He only became a professional footballer aged 20, and he was 22 when he mad his first Bundesliga start for Kaiserslautern. Two years, later, he played for Germany in the 2002 World Cup.
"His career would have been so much bigger if he'd been able to play with the players he's playing now," said Oliver Bierhoff, Germany's general manager, and a former striker himself.
Klose is not someone who spends time thinking what might have been though. He'd rather go and do everything he can to fulfill his ambitions. "The World Cup was my big target," he said in Fortaleza, "and at 36, I had to keep fit. I have always looked after my body, I'm reaping the rewards from that now. I'm fit and I'm fast".
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung earlier this year, the Serie A-based forward had revealed that he was the quickest player in the Lazio squad ("it's not so difficult," he joked) and still "among the top three" in Joachim Löw's team. "People don't know just how tough a dog I am," he claimed.
He's still got the bite, that's for sure.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is author of Englischer Fussball.