An unassuming legend who encapsulates the spirit of the world cup

Angelos Charisteas? When you hear that name your initial reaction is that you’ve heard of him but you’re not sure why. There is nothing much about his current surroundings that would make his name immediately stand out in the world of football. As a matter of fact he is currently a free agent having been released at the end of the 2012-13 season by Saudi club Al Nassr with a record of one goal in nine games. Inauspicious circumstances indeed.

And yet you’ve still heard of him and there is a perfectly good reason why. Ten years ago next month, he scored the winning goal for Greece in the final of the 2004 European Championships in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz. It was his third goal of the tournament and capped a remarkable victory for the Greeks against all the odds.

A quick sortie of Charisteas’ club career does not exactly make for stellar reading. As well as brief and moderately successful spells for Werder Bremen, Ajax and Feyenoord there are lengthy spells spent in the lower divisions of the Greek and German leagues. Had his career been in England we might have kindly referred to him as a journeyman.

Despite all this, his name will be forever synonymous with the spirit of Euro 2004. The have a go hero in a team of have a go heroes who wrote his name into tournament football legend.

You may be wondering why I am dissecting Charisteas’ career when he is not involved in this world cup. The simple reason is that on Saturday night this wonderful tournament produced a moment of history from a player who, like Charisteas does not necessarily demand the plaudits his achievements in tournament football deserve. With his first touch of this campaign, Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored his fifteenth World Cup finals goal in his fourth tournament and in doing so equalled the record of the Brazilian legend Ronaldo. The goal was also Klose’s 70th in 133 internationals for his country, a German record that puts him two ahead of the great Gerd Muller. However, here’s the million dollar question. Which club does Klose play for?

The answer is Lazio but you are unlikely to have known that unless you had followed Klose’s career in detail. Like Charisteas, his feats in international football are legendary but his club career is no more than fair to middling. Both men played for Werder Bremen and the German outfit are the only club for which Klose has passed the milestone of fifty league goals.

Despite his modest club career, Klose is a bona fide world cup legend. He is in many ways, the perfect encapsulation of what the world cup should be about; a festival of football where everyone can make a name for themselves. Think Roger Milla in 1990 or Geoff Hurst in 1966. It is not always the blue chip player who makes a tournament his own. Hurst of course was a late replacement to the England squad for the injured Jimmy Greaves.

That is not to say that Klose (or indeed Milla and Hurst) is merely an honest tryer. Far from it he is in fact a clinical poacher with a goalscoring instinct to rival the very best. The fact that his club career is not littered with honours is one of the modern game’s great mysteries.

Ronaldo’s fifteen goals arrived in the form of four in France ’98, three in Germany ’06 and a massive eight in the successful 2002 campaign which included two in the final against Klose’s Germany. Klose’s goals are spread more evenly. Five in 2002 (all headers), five more on home soil in 2006, four in South Africa and the one to equalise against Ghana on Saturday night. Ronaldo’s goal’s came in nineteen matches compared to Klose’s twenty although Klose has a slightly better minutes per goal ratio with 101 to the Brazilian’s 108. Ronaldo’s goals were undoubtedly more significant but there is little to separate them in terms of bare statistical analysis.

Klose is not a player who naturally bathes in the limelight. He is refreshingly removed from the egotistical nature of the modern footballer. Twice in his career he has been the recipient of fair play awards firstly for refusing the referee’s award of a penalty in a German league match that he believed was awarded incorrectly, and secondly for admitting immediately to using his hand to score a goal in a Serie A encounter. Whilst the attention going into this tournament has been on whether the global superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney can finally make an impact on a world cup, Klose has consistently outperformed them all on the very biggest stage. He is the spirit of the world cup and embodies everything that tournament football should represent; joy for our great game. At 36 years of age, Klose still greets world cup goals with the same front flip celebration that ushered in his first world cup goals in Japan twelve years ago. Whisper it quietly, he’s a legend.

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Everyone’s joined the party and Germany have grabbed the best seats

Four years ago, no one outside of Germany knew much about the country’s young side and their jagger-look-a-like manager Joachim Low. A third place finish in South Africa changed all that and Low was immediately linked with every top job in European club football. The fact that a talented young squad and coach have grown together for such a long time (four years is an age in international football) means that Germany have become a formidable force.

Of those starlets we’d never heard of in the last world cup, Manuel Neuer is now the finest stopper on the planet, Mats Hummels is a classy centre back, Ozil can thread the ball through the eye of a needle and Thomas Muller is the complete number 10.The spine of the team is without weakness.

The system is similar to the Spanish team of Euro 2012. There is no out and out striker as such. Muller plays in the ‘false number nine’ position if you like but Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski are all more than capable of weighing in with goals.

To aid the young players is the invaluable experience of Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose (who needs one goal to equal the record for world cup finals) and the indomitable Phillip Lahm. There is strength in depth also. Sami Khedira can play across the midfield and the squad has shown no signs of struggling without the services of talented youngster Marco Reuss, injured on the eve of the tournament. There is not a weakness to be found among Low’s 23.

Their performance on Monday night to demolish Portugal was the most complete team effort of the tournament so far. It is without hyperbole to suggest that the 4-0 scoreline flattered the men from Iberia. Portugal’s apologists might point to Pepe’s red card as a mitigating factor for the difference between the sides. However, Germany were already 2-0 up by that stage and looked threatening whereas Portugal (bar Ronaldo) had offered nothing.

Had Low left four years ago the story might be very different now. However, the fact that coach and players have developed together has created a fantastic spirit in the Germany squad. The reaction of all the players after Muller’s hat trick goal was one of shared delight, a marked contrast to the isolated celebrations of Arjen Robben on Friday night. There is a sense of common purpose pervading everything that the German players do. After coming up just short in recent tournaments, the players clearly believe that this is their time.

Readers must forgive me for my conservatism here. The brave pundit sticks his head above the parapet before a tournament starts and calls their winner. I have waited to see everyone play once before declaring that Germany are the most impressive team we’ve seen so far and that this is their tournament to lose.

No European team has ever won a world cup in South America. That unwanted record could soon be about to change.

Germany Team Preview

The Players

Manuel Neuer goalkeeper, Bayern Munich

Kevin Grosskreutz defender, Borussia Dortmund

Matthias Ginter midfielder, Freiburg

Benedikt Höwedes defender, Schalke

Mats Hummels defender, Borussia Dortmund

Sami Khedira midfielder, Real Madrid

Bastian Schweinsteiger midfielder, Bayern Munich

Mesut Özil midfielder, Arsenal

André Schürrle midfielder, Chelsea

10 Lukas Podolski midfielder, Arsenal

11 Miroslav Klose forward, Lazio

12 Ron-Robert Zieler goalkeeper, Hannover

13 Thomas Müller midfielder, Bayern Munich

14 Julian Draxler midfielder, Schalke

15 Erik Durm defender, Borussia Dortmund

16 Philipp Lahm (captain) defender, Bayern Munich

17 Per Mertesacker defender, Arsenal

18 Toni Kroos midfielder, Bayern Munich

19 Mario Götze midfielder, Bayern Munich

20 Jérôme Boateng defender, Bayern Munich

21 Shkodran Mustafi defender, Sampdoria

22 Roman Weidenfeller goalkeeper, Borussia Dortmund

23 Christoph Kramer midfielder, Borussia Mönchengladbach

Star man

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Julian Draxler. Arsenal are one of the many teams keeping an eye on the attacking midfielder, currently enjoying a fine season with Schalke.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Sami Khedira’s occasional tendency to “tell it like it is” in interviews may land him in hot water one day.

The coach

Joachim Low is well-liked, but unless he wins something with the riches at his disposal, the temptation to replace him with Jurgen Klopp will remain.

Grudge match

Only Italy (19) have featured in more World Cups than (West) Germany (17)but meetings with Holland used to bring out the worst in both teams –you’ll recall Frank Rijkaard applying the wrong kind of hair conditioner to Rudi Völler’s mullet in 1990 – but relations have become more cordial now that Germany are playing beautiful, unsuccessful football. Italy are the No1 angstgegner (bogey team), having never been beaten in a major tournament.

Holed up

Campo Bahia, in the eastern province of the same name, is a luxury beach resort completed in April by constructors from Munich. It’s designed to be “optimal” for the team – “the whole place has been laid out so as to foster a team spirit,” says the man in charge – with a German agronomist flown in to look after the training pitches.

How they qualified
Ominously. Played ten, won nine, and even the one they didn’t was a thrilling 4-4 draw with Sweden.

World Cup high
Won it three times, in 1954, 1974 and 1990, but none since the mullet was in fashion.

World Cup low
Not being invited to compete in the 1950 World Cup, reportedly because of the naughty stuff they did in the war.

Familiar faces
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), André Schürrle (Chelsea), Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal).

Title odds: 5/1

The stereotype is …
Dull and joyless, and yet consistently punch above their weight at major tournaments.

The reality is …
An unbelievably gifted squad who have arguably underperformed at major tournaments of late. Swift, deadly and yet fairly beatable. Germany play an aesthetically pleasing but slightly fragile 4-2-3-1 that comes with a Barcelona button: Löw can switch veteran striker Miroslav Klose for a false nine (Mario Götze) if need be. No Germany team have had this many fine attacking midfielders and wide players at their disposal, but there is also lot of good, old-fashioned angst around the left-back spot and central midfield, where key players are either out of form (Bastian Schweinsteiger), just back from injury (Sami Khedira) or ruled out entirely (Ilkay Gündogan).

What are they known for?
The Best League In The World, Bar None 99 per cent
National Socialism 1 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song shall retain in the world their old sound.

Duration
Clocks in at just over a minute. The full version consists of just three verses.

How to dress like their fans

images
Heidi pigtails for the ladies, sensible casual wear for the gentlemen. Rudi Voller moustache optional.

Commentator’s go-to stat
It’s 37 years since Germany lost a major penalty shoot-out. Expect Gary Lineker to whip that one out at some stage.