2006 was an action-packed year for Lukas Podolski, and a successful one too. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ , the young centre-forward was an integral part of the German team that captured the imagination of the home fans, and his three goals proved equally vital as the host nation went on to secure third place. To crown this achievement, the 21-year-old was named Gillette Best Young Player of the tournament.
After the FIFA World Cup, Podolski was transferred from relegated 1. FC Cologne to Germany's most successful team, Bayern Munich. He made his UEFA Champions League debut with the Bavarian giants and helped them to qualify for the knock-out stages, scoring his first goal in Europe's premier club competition against none other than Inter Milan. Here, Podolski speaks exclusively to FIFA.com about an amazing 2006.
When asked about his own personal highlight from the past 12 months, the sharp-shooter is as quick on the draw as he is in front of goal. "The World Cup, obviously," says Podolski, with his trademark smile. "To play seven World Cup matches in your home country when you are only 21 is just incredible."
After the tournament, the youngster then went on to notch an incredible seven goals in three UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers, and attributes this success to plain old hard work. "You always have to concentrate on the job in hand," explains Podolski. "When I play for Germany, that's all I think about, and when I'm at Bayern, then I don't think about upcoming internationals, just about what's going on at my club."
An unforgettable match
2006 was not just one long run of successes, however, and Podolski also had to take some salutary lessons out of the defeats he suffered, particularly with his former club. "When 1. FC Cologne went down, it really was a big disappointment, and I found it difficult to shake it off with the World Cup coming so soon afterwards."
Once he had put relegation behind him, though, the young striker set about proving his worth on football's biggest stage. He scored his first goal against Ecuador and followed this up with a brace in the 2-0 round-of-16 win over Sweden. In the tense quarter-final versus Argentina, Podolski showed an assurance beyond his years in calmly putting away his penalty in the decisive shoot-out.
The forward has two favourite moments from last summer's tournament. "Our group match against Poland was a very emotional time for me, since that is the country where I was born and with which I have a real emotional attachment. Of course, I also know a few of their players quite well, so, all in all, it really was a special match for me. Then of course there was the final celebration on the Fan Mile in Berlin. It was obviously a real disappointment to go out at the semi-final stage, but to beat Portugal to finish in third place and then to go and celebrate our overall achievement with the fans was just great."
When the player needs to escape the demands that come with being young superstar, his first port of call is his nearest and dearest. "I always like coming home and spending time with my girlfriend and my family," he says. "It's what I enjoy most."
The striker was named Gillette Best Young Player at the 2006 FIFA World Cup , beating off some stiff competition from his peers, as he himself readily admits. "It's a shame that Lionel Messi didn't play that much during the tournament, otherwise he'd have been one of the favourites," explains Podolski. "Closer to home, though, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Marcell Jansen and Per Mertesacker are all good young players. We have a really good young team that should be ready for the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup."
With still a long way to go before those two tournaments, Podolski must first turn his attentions back to domestic football. Bayern went into the winter break third in the Bundesliga, while in February, a mouth-watering round-of-16 clash with Real Madrid awaits. "We've got to the last 16 of the Champions League and are only three points behind Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga," says Podolski, who fervently hopes his side can "bring at least one piece of silverware home" in 2007. Any final wishes for the New Year? "Health for me and my family, of course - that's the most important thing."