'I HONESTLY don't think I was troubled by him that night .
. . but he scored and won a penalty," says Darren O'Dea, smiling ruefully. Twenty months have passed since the evening in question, when Germany came to Dublin for a World Cup qualifier and meted out a fearful hiding to the Republic of Ireland, but the former Celtic centre-back still struggles to comprehend how Miroslav Klose managed to make such an impact on the outcome.
The imperious Germans triumphed 6-1, the veteran striker drawing a foul from O'Dea to earn the penalty from which Mesut Oezil scored the third, before adding the fourth himself after a typically adroit dart away from the Irish centre-back.
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The goal was his 65th for his country and left him just three shy of Gerd Mueller's national record; a mark that Klose made his own in last Friday's friendly against Armenia with the sort of strike that has become unerringly familiar. He made to dart across a defender but instead burst behind his man to meet a cross with his forehead. "He's lethal in the air and his movement is terrific, especially pulling off defenders when the ball is wide," O'Dea says, sympathising with his Armenian counterpart.
Yet while feted former Bayern Munich striker Mueller set the standard in the typically high-tariff setting of the 1974 World Cup final, it was entirely apt that Klose made the honour his own in a more mundane manner. After all, the Lazio striker is perhaps the most underappreciated performer in World Cup history.
Consider this: he is the only man to have scored at least three times in four different tournaments and just one player - Brazil's Ronaldo - has bettered his 15 finals goals. Given that another couple over the next few weeks would earn the 34-year-old that record for himself, it was little wonder the Brazilian was alarmed when shown footage of Klose scoring for Lazio this season while a guest on a television show in his homeland. "Is this guy still playing?" was his panicky response.
It is, as O'Dea explains, easy to forget sometimes. "He's anonymous on the pitch," explains the defender, who has spent the past year with Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk. "And I don't want to do him down, but before the game you don't worry about him. Maybe that's why he's been so successful, because you kind of overlook him with all these other great players coming from deeper."
It may well be that Klose is sacrificed by coach Joachim Loew in favour of one of those more lavish playmaking talents for Germany's opening game against Portugal on Monday, with the likes of Mario Goetze and Thomas Mueller both having played in a notional central striking role for Bayern Munich this term. However, as the only recognised striker in the 23-man squad, he will undoubtedly have some part to play before what is likely to be the final season of a remarkable career.
Klose was still playing in the amateur fifth tier in Germany when he was spotted by Kaiserslautern at the age of 21, but has since become a national hero despite having been born in Poland.
Indeed, it was not until he was eight that Klose, his footballer father, Josef, and international handball playing mother, Barbara, arrived in Germany, having fled communist rule and driven across the border to a refugee camp in Lower Saxony. There, they spent nine days living with four or five other families in one room before being awarded passports.
Even now, he still speaks only his native tongue when at home with his wife and children but, at that time, the only words of German young Miroslav knew were 'yes' and 'thank you'. Former schoolfriends tell of how he ran home in tears on his first day, but football offered a means of integration. He progressed through the ranks of local club SG Blue Bach Diedelkopf while serving as an apprentice carpenter and was eventually signed by Kaiserslautern, before going on to represent both Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich.
Now, the conclusion of his career is being played out in Italy. Niggling injuries limited him to 22 appearances and seven goals in Serie A this term but Loew believes that relative inactivity could prove a benefit in Brazil.
"When he's fit, he is terribly important for my team," said the coach on arriving in South America. "His secret is his professionalism, his strength is his will."
O'Dea points to other attributes - his movement, anticipation and finishing - and draws a comparison with Pippo Inzaghi, the predatory former Juventus, AC Milan and Italy striker against whom he played in the Champions League with Celtic. "He seems to understand that his job is just to score goals and that he's got guys around him to help him do that," the Irishman says.
"He was not hard to play against as such and I was never stressed about what he might do, but it wasn't until after the game that I appreciated just how good he is."