Podolski mindful of his roots as Germany striker sinks homeland

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AS HE twice placed his hand on his chest in the most muted of celebratory gestures on Sunday night, Lukas Podolski was paying due respect to his homeland who have been left to bitterly lament missing out on his rare goalscoring talent.

While the German striker delighted those who snapped up pre-tournament odds of as much as 25-1 that he will win the Golden Boot at Euro 2008, his own pleasure at scoring both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Poland in their Group B opener was tempered by the strong feelings he retains for his roots.

Podolski was born in Gliwice, or Gliewitz as it is known in Germany, an industrial town in Silesia which was at the hub of the historical enmity which still exists between Poland and their neighbours.

Sovereignty of the town has changed hands several times through the centuries and on 31 August 1939, when it was under German control, the Nazi SS mounted a staged attack on the radio station in Gliewitz. They lay the blame at Poland's door, providing them with their own justification for the subsequent invasion of the country which started the Second World War.

In 1945, the town was given back to Poland as part of the Potsdam Conference rulings, and it was there that Podolski came into the world 40 years later. When he was just two years old, his family moved across the border to settle near Cologne and were granted German citizenship.

Now with a tremendous return of 27 goals from 49 caps since making his international debut for Germany four years ago, Podolski is contented and settled as a key figure for one of the world's most efficient and consistently successful footballing countries.

Yet had former Poland coach Pawel Janas not ignored pleas from the country's media to call up Podolski in 2003 when the then 18-year-old was making a big impression in the Bundesliga at Cologne, he would certainly have been more than willing to represent the nation of his birth instead.

After Sunday night, Janas' words of five years ago would grate in the minds of thousands of Polish supporters.

"We have much better strikers in Poland than Podolski," said Janas at the time. "I don't see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga. He is not even a regular starter at his club."

Before Janas' error of judgment could be rectified, Podolski was called into the German squad by Rudi Voller and made his debut as a substitute against Hungary in Kaiserslautern in June 2004. Germany's youngest player at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Podolski retained his place despite Cologne's relegation and scored three goals in the 2006 World Cup finals as a resurgent home nation finished third in the tournament.

A 7.5 million transfer to Bayern Munich followed in the summer of 2006. His form for the Bavarian giants has so far not been as prolific as anticipated, with just 17 goals from 72 appearances so far, but Aberdeen supporters who saw him score twice against their team for Bayern in the Uefa Cup earlier this year will testify to Podolski's deadliness.

He celebrated his 23rd birthday last week and it would seem the best is yet to come from a player who grabbed the spotlight in the opening weekend of Euro 2008. Podolski, however, remained sensitive to the circumstances of his performance against Poland.

"I have a big family back in Poland, I was born in Poland myself and it is a part of my heart," said Podolski. "I wanted to show some respect after the goals I scored. I didn't celebrate very much because I was born in Poland, I have a big family there, and you have to have some respect for the land.

"My father, my uncle and relatives from Poland were in the stands. After the match, I rang them up as they were driving back home."

Podolski, who also played when Germany defeated Poland 1-0 in at the 2006 World Cup with a late Oliver Neuville goal, added: "It's natural that such a match is something special and exciting. I've said often enough that I have Polish blood. But I've grown as a player in Germany and that's where I became known and that's why there is only one goal for me – to win."