x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Klose, Muller and Forlan can add a golden finish to their campaigns

The three players on the hunt for goals will carry an intriguing sub-plot that is bound to captivate supporters in what is usually a nondescript encounter.

Miroslav Klose needs two more goals to surpass Brazilian Ronaldo's World Cup scoring record
Miroslav Klose needs two more goals to surpass Brazilian Ronaldo's World Cup scoring record

JOHANNESBURG // Traditionally, the World Cup's third and fourth play-off match is a meaningless contest that struggles to stir excitement among even the most ardent of football fans. But when Uruguay and Germany meet in Port Elizabeth tonight, a usually nondescript encounter will carry an intriguing sub-plot that is bound to captivate supporters.

It is not because Uruguay's romantic run to the semi-finals thrilled neutrals, or because Germany's brutal destruction of two football's biggest names - England and Argentina - in the knock-out stages re-ignited the tournament after the African sides fell. The reason armchair viewers the world over will, likely, tune in to the goings-on at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium are goals. More specifically, the hunt for them.

With the race to be South Africa's leading goal-scorer reaching its denouement, three players in contention to play: Uruguay's Diego Forlan and German pair Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose - are joint second in the goal charts after netting four times each. Each has a chance to win the Golden Boot if they can score twice and Spain's David Villa and Holland's Wesley Sneijder - joint top scorers with five - fail to add to their tally in tomorrow's final.

With team honours gone, one could forgive the trio for prioritising individual recognition. But Forlan, a fitness doubt after he picked up a thigh injury against the Dutch, disagreed. "[Holland] was the worst loss of my career, of course," Forlan said after La Celeste's defeat to the Dutch on Tuesday. "We had a chance of winning and playing in a World Cup final, but we missed it. I'm not thinking about [the Golden Boot]. I want to finish third; I will be ready and healthy and I hope to be in the team."

Klose, whose 14 World Cup goals sees him joint-second with countryman Gerd Muller and one short of Ronaldo, the Brazil striker, in the all-time scorers' list, is also a doubt with a back injury incurred in Germany's defeat to Spain. Muller, however, has returned from suspension and is poised replace Piotr Trochowski in midfield. After winning global plaudits for his side's rapidity and lethal attacking style, Joachim Loew, the Germany coach, promised Die Mannschaft, who are looking to finish third for the second World Cup in a row, would be ready.

"I'm certain we will go into the match with the necessary focus. No one needs to hang their heads low and we want to have a good final match," said Loew. History says Germany will indeed be hungry to win. The European giants have finished third on three occasions and lost the play-off only once, in 1958, to France. For Uruguay, a nation with a population of just over 3.5 million, to be the only South American side in the tournament's semi-finals was some achievement.

In a World Cup when several of the game's established superpowers failed to shine, the feats of Oscar Tabarez's team should not, according to Fernando Muslera, the Uruguayan goalkeeper who excelled in South Africa, be underestimated. "Uruguay is a little country, but football is really popular," said Muslera. "We have won the World Cup twice before, so to be better than Brazil and Argentina is the most important thing."

Adding Germany to the list will bring even more satisfaction. emegson@thenational.ae