Miroslav Klose's move to Italy was seen by some as his last chance to boost the bank balance before retirement. For Klose himself, it's an opportunity to reinvigorate a career which is still full of targets and dreams.
The space was tight, the atmosphere around him frenzied and partisan, the ball to his feet coming from a dipping cross between closing defenders; and yet, with everything seemingly against him, Miroslav Klose made scoring the winner in last weekend's Rome derby look as simple as tapping into an open goal in a training match.
With the AS Roma back four desperately flinging themselves in front of him, Lazio's German striker took two delicate touches - one to control the ball and another to tap it out from under his feet - before effortlessly side-footing his shot through a tangle of flailing bodies and beyond Roma goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's despairing dive as the clock ticked onto 93 minutes.
In the pressure cooker environment of the Derby della Capitale, at the end of added time, Klose once again showed the presence of mind, the instinct and cold, calculated execution of a world class striker. Any remaining concerns that the 33-year-old German wouldn't adapt to Serie A after a career spent entirely in the Bundesliga were swept aside with the precise sweep of his trusty right foot.
"He's done extremely well," Davidde Corran, an Italian soccer correspondent, told Deutsche Welle. "They've brought him in to score goals and he's doing that. It's not such a great shock though. He's the type of striker that will benefit from Lazio's play and service from midfield."
"A team like Lazio is a perfect fit for Klose and he seems to have found the right pace of game in Italy," Corran said. "He may not have been as attractive to the bigger clubs in Europe but he can do a job for Lazio. He can keep up with the game despite his age and he'll get scoring opportunities there ... I think he can be one of the players to drive Lazio on to a strong campaign."
Klose's injury time winner was his fourth goal in six games for Lazio and it took his club career total to 125. It also confirmed to many that there is plenty of gas still left in the tank and that rather than moving to Italy for one last big payday, Klose - typically for such a model professional - has loftier targets in mind.
After leaving Bayern Munich on a free transfer in the summer, Klose has apparently set himself a challenge by moving to Italy - to embrace a new country, a new league and a new style of play in a bid to revitalize a club career which had slowly stagnated in Bavaria. He has set himself another goal that this invigorating new challenge might help him achieve - prolonging his glittering international career and surpassing Germany legend Gerd Müller's all-time record goal tally.
Klose has 62 international goals, the last coming in September's 6-2 thrashing of Austria in a Euro 2012 qualifier. That goal took him to within six of Müller, the man known as "Der Bomber" and the epitome of German ruthlessness and efficiency in front of goal.
But despite his enviable international record, Klose's place in the Germany team for the coming European Championships in Poland and Ukraine could be under threat. Klose must be worried by a crop of talented youngsters, by the current form of Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez and by Germany coach Joachim Löw's undying loyalty to Cologne's Lukas Podolski. All these factors are bound to impact on his playing time.
Klose's track record should be enough to at least guarantee him a place in the squad for next summer's finals. But beyond that, he even hopes he can maintain fitness and form long enough to feature in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Since making his international mark in coming second in the World Cup scoring stakes with five strikes in 2002, Klose topped the goal charts with five more in the 2006 World Cup on home soil and continued his tournament form in last summer's competition in South Africa, scoring four. In total, Klose has 14 goals in World Cup finals, just two behind Brazil's Ronaldo. That puts him joint second along with Gerd Müller on the list of FIFA World Cup goal scorers.
Klose has had less luck in the European championships, however. He carried an injury into Euro 2004 and was used sparingly by then-coach Rudi Völler, failing to score when he was called upon. He managed two goals in the 2008 tournament as Germany made it to the final, only to lose to Spain.
"Klose has everything you would want from a player; he's committed, a good team player, a good character and a striker who scores a lot of goals," Jörg Jakob, deputy editor-in-chief at kicker magazine told Deutsche Welle. "But times are changing. This isn't enough."
The challengers to his place in the starting line-up have been making solid cases for their own inclusion and appear to offer qualities that even a stalwart like Klose can't bring to the team.
Successors lining up
Mario Gomez has picked up where he left off last season after finishing as top scorer in the Bundesliga with 28 goals. So far he's hit 10 in eight games with Bayern. His form has earned him the renewed confidence of Jogi Löw and Gomez has repaid that faith with seven goals in his last eight matches for Germany.
Gomez, as Klose's junior by seven years, could benefit from a long run in the team and a successful tournament under his belt – after his abject performances in Euro 2008 and limited game time in the 2010 World Cup. Löw may look to embed the Bayern striker in a starting role with an eye on continuity for the future.
Podolski, despite fluttering in and out of form with his club, has a proven track record as an international striker on the biggest stages and at 26, he is still very much in Löw's plans as the youthful revolution in the Germany team continues. His own goal scoring record is impressive for one still so young in terms of international soccer. Podolski has 43 goals in 93 caps – but has only netted once in his last ten games.
However, Podolski is seen as a more versatile player than Klose; a striker able to lead the attacking line but also capable of performing as a wide player in a front three or in a creative role in the hole behind a lone target man. Poldi's adaptability gives Löw a number of tactical options that Klose cannot offer.
Life in the old dog yet
But despite the odds seemingly stacked against him - as shown by his match winner in the Rome derby - many pundits believe that Klose still has the commitment, skill and motivation to make the magic happen even when the chance looks dead and buried.
"I am quite sure, Klose will make it to Euro 2012 and break Müller's record," Patrick Strasser, Bayern correspondent for Munich's Abendzeitung newspaper, told Deutsche Welle. "There are plenty of games nowadays for him to achieve this and he's even said that he wants to play a role in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He's the kind of guy who is very eager to get all the records and in terms of training, eating, sleeping, and not going out, I have never seen such a professional player. His age will not matter at all."
"Klose joined Lazio for one simple reason; to make the German squad for Euro 2012," said Cathal Mullan, a correspondent for the Lazio webzine, Lazioland. "It's no surprise that he is on song and firing goal after goal but his fitness and ability to make Euro 2012 or beyond will be questioned until he can prove he can recover from injury."
"He missed an international last week, apparently as he wanted to play in the derby and the German management saw no reason to risk him. Subsequently, he got 90-plus minutes. The signs are there that he can make Euro 2012 and even make a difference. He just has to get there and prove it on the stage."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Mark Hallam