Podolski: I want to keep improving
In terms of goal-scoring, a nation's hopes are resting squarely on the shoulders of Lukas Podolski, the 23-year-old striker who is expected to guide Germany to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. After all, the previous tournament on home soil in 2006 saw him chosen as the most promising young player, ahead of such illustrious names as Lionel Messi of Argentina and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Poldi also shone at the UEFA EURO 2008, winning the adidas Silver Shoe as the tournament's second top scorer and was chosen in the 'All Star Team'.
On 6 September 2008, he even made history, scoring his 30th international goal against Liechtenstein at the tender age of 23 years, three months and two days, making him the youngest German to reach this landmark. Only six players had managed the feat quicker than Podolski, namely Pele, Sven Rydell, Ronaldo, Sandor Kocsis, Stern John and Ferenc Puskas. FIFA.com caught up with the Bayern Munich striker for an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: You played no fewer than 16 times for Germany last year, recording seven goals and five assists in the process. Can we safely say that 2008 was a good year for you?
Lukas Podolski: When you look back at the World Cup qualifiers and the EURO and the various good competitive and friendly matches, it was definitely a successful year. Overall it was a good year and it was a lot of fun, particularly the European Championship.
31 goals in 59 matches can only be described as absolutely world class. Can you carry on at the same rate?
I certainly hope so. I got my 60th cap against England which is a phenomenal amount already, and I am proud to have represented my country so often. I want to keep on improving, score lots of goals for Germany and enjoy some more success.
Is there any aspect of your game that you are not entirely happy with? Where do you see room for improvement?
I turned professional a long time ago now and I know that in football, you're always learning both on and off the pitch - with the way you handle the media for example. You get more mature, that's what it is. At club and country level you are surrounded by good coaches, you train with the best and that means that every match and every training session are a challenge from which you can learn more.
What are your aims for 2009?
We will obviously be focussing on qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. World Cups and Euros are always something special and you always want to qualify for them. Obviously if you don't make it through then it's less of an exciting experience.
What was your opinion on the split between Germany coach Joachim Low, captain Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings?
I don't know exactly what the situation is and what was said. We had a good talk with the coach before the England match - he gave a good speech and I think that everyone now knows the way things have to be, so the talking is pretty much over.
You've already played in two major tournaments for Germany, finishing third then second respectively. Will you take the step up to first in 2010?
That's what everyone is writing and saying, but first of all we need to qualify for the World Cup. But when you look at our squad and all the good young players we have, then it's clear that we'll have a good team by 2010 - one that should be capable of battling it out for top honours.
What do you think of how your qualifying group currently stands, with Russia in second, level on points with Wales.
Russia are definitely the main competition since we've still got to play them in Moscow. That'll definitely be a very tough match over there.
Germany will not be taking part in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009. Is that a disadvantage given the particular weather conditions in South Africa?
Yes, it would have been nice if we'd managed to qualify.
You are seen as one of the mainstays of the German team with regard to South Africa. Are you already thinking about 2010?
I've been in the team since 2004 now and I don't feel under pressure any more. I'm obviously one of the players with more experience under my belt, but it's a thrill every time I get called up for a match or a tournament. Football is a pleasure and a passion for me.
The Poldi/Schweini combination with Bastian Schweinsteiger was the real fairytale of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Are you still such close friends?
We still get on well, both when we're training together for Bayern and also off the pitch, but the whole thing was pushed over the top by the media and it all got too much at the end of the day. Now that it's been put to one side, things are a lot easier.
Are Germany on the same level as the likes of Brazil and Argentina?
When you look at recent tournaments we've had a lot of success other than in 2004, so we've got nothing to fear from the top teams. We've already seen that we can hold our own when it comes to the big occasion.
What do you think about Diego Maradona being the new Argentina coach?
For me he is one of the best footballers of all time, so in that respect I think it's great. There will always be people who come out and say that it's either a good or a bad thing, but we'll see what happens and how things pan out for him.
Have you already thought about life after football?
No, definitely not. First of all I'm just happy that I'm healthy and have a good number of years ahead of me on the pitch - that's the main thing. That is what I've been working for all my life.
Which are your favourite clubs - not necessarily one you would like to play for, but your dream clubs?
Cologne and Barcelona. Cologne because I was brought up there and played for them from D youth level (under-13s) upwards. I've followed Barcelona's fortunes ever since I got interested in football, back when Romario and Stoichkov were playing. And then you look at the fantastic players they have today - Messi, Eto'o and Henry are absolutely top notch footballers. I've played twice in their stadium and that was such an amazing experience! And then there is the whole history behind the club, the past players and their attacking brand of football - I love everything about them.
Whom would you like to swap shirts with?
Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Messi. And these are three players I have already swapped shirts with. They're among the best players in the world.