Klose all but seals his place

Germany forward shows signs of form after his performances for Bayern Munich were patchy but coach Loew sees improvement.

Miroslav Klose, the Germany forward, scored just three league goals for Bayern Munich last season.
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PRETORIA // Miroslav Klose, the troubled Germany striker, looks set to win a starting spot in their opening match against Australia with Joachim Loew, the coach, saying he is hitting top form after a disappointing season. Klose scored only three league goals for Bayern Munich last season and has looked out of sorts in most of Germany's World Cup warm-up matches.

"No, there were no such gifts today," Loew said when asked if Klose, who turned 32 yesterday, would start their Group D opener on Sunday as a birthday present. "But what is clear is that Miro feels well, very well psychologically," he told reporters. "Yesterday in training I saw he moved very well, he went into the action quickly and I have the good feeling that he is slowly finding his physical and mental form."

Klose, who was top scorer at the 2006 World Cup with five goals having finished second, to the Brazilian Ronaldo, with five at the 2002 tournament, was taken off at half time in his team's final friendly against Bosnia last week, with Germany trailing 1-0. They went on to win 3-1. "Miro had a tough year and he has admitted that he underestimated some situations," said Loew. "But he has worked hard ... and I think this week he can loosen that handbrake."

Klose is Germany's most experienced player, with 48 goals in 96 internationals. And his teammates have stood behind him during the tough times. "He has a lot of World Cup experience, he can evaluate himself the best," Per Mertesacker, the defender, said. "We all have confidence in him. We are all behind him." Germany are keen to all but secure a spot in the next round before their final match against Ghana at higher altitude in Johannesburg. But Loew warned the Australians were no pushovers.

"Their coach demands organisation and discipline. They have an unbelievable passion, unbelievable organisation and a near-perfect defensive structure," Loew said at his team's isolated training base near Pretoria. Germany have had to deal with a string of injuries, including the absence of Michael Ballack, their captain, and Loew said his squad were still far from their peak. "This is a young team and some players will need to lift themselves out of the shadows. Maybe this team will peak in a few years. It has not yet reached its peak and the future belongs to it."

* Agencies