German hopes of lifting the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil died with a semi-final defeat by Italy yet for striker Lukas Podolski there was a small consolation in the shape of the Best Young Player award, his three goals for the Mannschaft helping him finish ahead of superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the voting for this prestigious individual accolade.
Born in Poland, Podolski moved to Germany with his parents in 1987 and started playing organised football with FC Jugend 07 Bergheim, in the vicinity of his current home in Cologne. The youthful 'Poldi', a mobile and potent striker even then, soon attracted the attention of Bundesliga club FC Cologne whom he joined in 1995.
His career took off from there. Podolski made his first-team debut at 18 and signed professional forms soon afterwards. However, it was a turbulent period in the history of the three-time Bundesliga champions, who were relegated in the 2003/04 campaign but bounced straight back the following season, Podolski finishing top scorer in the second division with 24 goals. Just a season later Cologne dropped through the relegation trap-door again. By now a regular for Germany, Podolski announced a summer 2006 switch to Bayern Munich in advance of the FIFA World Cup in the same year.
In international terms, Podolski rates as an outstanding product of the German Football Association's (DFB) youth development system. The left-footed striker first pulled on a national jersey in 2001 for his country's Under-17 team, before appearing successively for the U-18, U-19 and U-21 sides. He featured in a total of 21 youth internationals, scoring 12 goals.
He earned his first senior cap on 6 June 2004 at the age of 19 and later that same month had his first taste of a major international tournament as a substitute in Germany's final game of UEFA EURO 2004 against the Czech Republic. Jurgen Klinsmann, who took the Germany helm after that championship, spotted his potential and had his faith repaid as Podolski served up dynamic performances and goals aplenty – beginning with three at the following year's FIFA Confederations Cup.
At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany opened with victories over Costa Rica and Poland before Podolski found the net in the third group fixture against Ecuador, firing home to make the score 3-0. The Round of 16 clash with Sweden rates as Podolski's personal highlight, as he put his country 2-0 up with a brace of goals inside the first 12 minutes to seal the Scandinavians' exit from the tournament.
Germany's goalless quarter-final against Argentina proved one of the most tensely contested matches of the finals and in the deciding penalty shoot-out, Podolski held his nerve and slotted home Germany's third spot-kick, helping the host nation to book their place in the semi-finals. They ultimately had to be content with third place but Podolski's seven appearances on the biggest global stage impressed the experts enough to earn him the plaudits as Best Young Player.
Podoloski's goalscoring touch served Germany well at his next major tournament, the 2008 UEFA European Championship, where he hit three goals to help the Mannschaft reach the final. That same year he was part of a Bayern team that collected the league and cup double yet he never truly settled with the Bavarians and, answering the call of home, he returned to his beloved Cologne in summer 2009.
|08/07/2006||Stuttgart||GER||3:1 (0:0)||POR||Third place|
|30/06/2006||Berlin||GER||1:1 a.e.t. (1:1, 0:0) 4:2 PSO||ARG||Quarter-finals|
|24/06/2006||Munich||GER||2:0 (2:0)||SWE||Round of 16|
|20/06/2006||Berlin||ECU||0:3 (0:2)||GER||Group matches|
|14/06/2006||Dortmund||GER||1:0 (0:0)||POL||Group matches|
|09/06/2006||Munich||GER||4:2 (2:1)||CRC||Group matches|