When you take into account our excellent performances at the last World Cup, and in qualification for this championship, we have to be confident. Spain still are the absolute point of reference, but I believe we are well on our way to catching them. It says everything about our self-belief that even a second- or third-place finish will leave us very disappointed. If we play as we can, if we set up as we can, we have as good a chance as anyone.
What makes you so optimistic?
The huge creative and goalscoring potential we have in the team, for a start. We move the ball around well, have a good understanding in our build-up, are quick to turn defence into attack and play with a large amount of flair. We’re a very strong unit. We love coming together on national-team duty and get a lot of pleasure and enjoyment out of it. We’re rivals in the Bundesliga, but as soon as the squad assembles the feeling of solidarity and camaraderie takes over in a big way.
How does it feel being in a group with Portugal and Holland?
To win outright you have to get past the best at some point or other. A European Championship naturally means high standards. We will not have the luxury of easing our way in, we immediately get down to business with Portugal and Holland. We’ll be ready and certainly have no apprehension. That’s the mark of this team. We can’t wait.
Who are your main threat?
The usual names: the Spanish, the Dutch, the Italians, maybe the French.
You are of Spanish descent, so would you relish a Germany-Spain Final?
I have a lot in common with Spain. But the bottom line is I don’t care who we play, just as long as we go the distance.
You currently are in the hottest goalscoring streak of your career for club and country. How do you explain such an explosive upturn?
A lot of it is down to hard work in training, taking care to improve each and every aspect of my game, never being satisfied. At 26 I think I’m at the optimum age for a striker. I’ve the necessary experience and no longer become distracted by missed chances. I’m more relaxed. I don’t dwell on things. I stay calm and focus on the next opportunity. It’s a question of maturity.
How intense is your competition with Miroslav Klose for the one
spot at the point of the attack?
Competition is part of the game. You have to accept it, learn to thrive on it. Miro is a phenomenal goalscorer. He’s done wonders for the national team over a very long period. The competition between us is healthy and respectful, but it’s still a battle to impress. May the best man win. All I can do is stay fit and keep scoring. Then it’s up to the coach.
What got you through the hard times when you weren’t producing the goods for Germany?
It’s never easy to be jeered and whistled, to have people constantly wondering why you can’t translate your goals from club to national team. I just had to persevere. I thought I belonged at this level and was determined to prove it. I wanted to counter all those who laughed at me for my bad miss against Austria at Euro 2008. There was my motivation. Of course, I also owe a lot to Joachim Low. When many were predicting I would never make it as an international striker, he absolutely stood by me and it kept me going. When he made me captain for the first time against Ukraine last year it was like fulfilling every kid’s dream. What made it even better was that it was also my 50th cap. It was a huge satisfaction as well as confirmation of my significance to the squad. After all my problems I felt I had come out the other side.
Interview by Nick Bidwell