'If you're good enough, you're big enough' is often heard in football, and Philipp Lahm is evidence of that. The 1.70m fullback may be small in stature, but he is a big name on the global stage, praised for his consistency and class. The 25-year-old, a product of the Bayern Munich youth system and now vice-captain at the club, cemented his place in German footballing lore with a string of fine displays at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.
Lahm is now setting his sights even higher. The Munich-born player, who has 60 caps to his name, believes Germany can be contenders at South Africa 2010. However, to do that, Joachim Low's team must first secure their berth at next year's world finals. The race for top spot in European Zone, Group 4 comes to a head this Saturday in what is almost certainly the decisive fixture in the section.
Leaders Germany are away to immeadiate pursuers Russia, and need at least a point to remain top and preserve a realistic chance of qualifying directly for the first FIFA World Cup on African soil. Ahead of the crunch meeting in Moscow, Lahm spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Can you imagine a FIFA World Cup without Germany?
Philipp Lahm: Not at all, simply because Germany have never failed to qualify before. We're not wasting a minute's thought on the idea that we might not be in South Africa.
You've been a leading light for your country for some time now. Germany's past reputation was based on work-rate and an unshakeable will to win. Are those still the main strengths?
I believe we've genuinely held on to those attributes and always play as a unit. Another of our strengths is the way we score our goals. We're traditionally dangerous from set plays, long-range shooting and headers. We have real quality in and around our opponents' box. We're physically strong and look to get our shots away quickly, so we're always good for goals.
German teams are always mentally strong. Why?
Because we've been very successful in the past, and that's an inspiration to the next generations. You only have to look at Germany's record at major tournaments. We won the World Cup in 1954, '74 and '90, and the European championship in '72, '80 and '96. We've made it through to finals at least as often. We've grown up with the conviction that Germany are always good enough to reach the final.
Does that help in tackling any nervousness ahead of the probable group decider in Moscow?
Nervous? Us? We're not nervous, we're focused. A place at the World Cup is at stake, everyone knows that. The Russians made the semi-finals at the last European championship, because they're a very good team with outstanding individuals. But we're Germany, so we're going there looking to win. It won't be easy, but we'll be extremely well prepared. We're also going there as leaders, so a draw would do us as well. I think we have an advantage.
You mentioned Russia's individual quality. Will you be especially respectful of Andrei Arshavin?
Yes, he's a very, very good player and a master of the one-on-one situation. He's one of the most dangerous players in the Russia team and someone who can make the difference.
Will you go there looking to attack, or will Germany wait for chances on the break?
We have to do both. They're not mutually exclusive. We're going to Moscow intending to impose attacking authority on the game. But obviously, we've got to orientate ourselves on the Russians too. We know all about their good individuals, who could beat you in a one-on-one situation at any time, so we need to keep it tight and well organised at the back.
Both Germany and Russia are teams who could go a long way at the FIFA World Cup. Should you qualify, what could Germany achieve at South Africa 2010?
The first priority is always to survive the group stage and make it to the last 16. We've all seen what can happen after that, both at our 'home' World Cup in 2006 and at EURO 2008. You always have a chance of making the Final. I'd say we start with every chance of success. And we should never forget the importance of form on the day, especially when the top teams meet.
Would you include Germany and Russia among the world elite?
I think the Spanish are a shade better at the moment. The English have a very good coach and look strong for now. You never ignore Brazil either. But we're definitely among a group of countries with a chance of taking the trophy. We were third at the World Cup and second at the EURO, so our goal for 2010 is to make the Final and win the trophy.
You rate as one of the best fullbacks in the world. What are the qualities required of a full-back in the modern game?
You have to be first-class in both directions: playing your part in attacking moves, where you need to join in at the right moment, and obviously in defence too. You have to be adept at dealing with one-on-one situations, which means you need pace and decent technique. These are the key factors in my opinion.
Is it in any way difficult when you're praised as world-class the whole time?
I wouldn't say it's difficult. As a footballer, you know you're only as good as your last game. There's no point paying any attention to choruses of praise, because you've got to deliver every time.
You're right-footed, but you made the international breakthrough as a left-back. Now you're mostly back over on the right, both for Bayern and for Germany. Doesn't that deprive you of one of your chief attacking weapons - cutting inside from the left and shooting from a central position with your stronger foot?
Yeah, cutting inside from the left has always been a possibility for me. But I've laid on a number of goals with crosses from the right this season. I reckon I'm capable of playing on both flanks at the highest level.
You're still young at 25, but you're already closely involved in community and charity work. What exactly does that involve?
I founded the Philipp Lahm Foundation in December 2007, to support kids and youths in the areas of sport and education, both in Germany and also in Africa. We've already constructed a football pitch on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and we recently held our first summer camp in Germany for 80 kids. The main topics were nutrition, personal development and physical activity. Hopefully, we'll be able to expand the programme in the coming years and cover a few more cities.
Does it bring a sense of fulfilment?
This kind of commitment is a lot of fun, and it needs to be fun, or you shouldn't be doing it. It does take time, after all. My aim is somehow to repay some of the happiness I derive from football, my family and my friends. And I hope that the 80 kids at the camp, who obviously enjoyed themselves, have taken away something to help them in their future lives. I think it's vital you accept your status as a role model for young people. Everyone who's in the public eye, and I don't just mean sportsmen and women, needs to come to terms with being a role model, at least to a certain extent.