Most footballers can only dream of reaching 100 international caps in a career: it's an important landmark that only an elite few can boast, and one that many greats never attained. On Sunday, less than two weeks after turning 27 years of age, Lukas Podolski is set to mark a century of caps for Germany - in doing so, becoming the youngest European player ever to reach that tally.
To earn a hundred caps requires an elusive combination of fortune and skill: an early development and recognition, luck in avoiding injury, and sufficiently consistent form to retain a spot for the long term. Podolski, through spells both good and bad, has rarely been sidelined for the long term, and has always enjoyed the trust of coach Joachim Low and his predecessor, Jurgen Klinsmann.
In every international tournament of his career, he has delivered; even when played out of position as a left-winger. In the prime of his career, and following his best-ever individual Bundesliga season, the new Arsenal signing would appear well on his way to breaking Lothar Matthaus' Germany record of 150 caps, but Podolski's individual milestone comes amid a cloud of uncertainty over his international future.
As his cap count has risen and risen, Podolski's tally of goals has barely ticked in the last 18 months. Since the end of 2010, the attacker has played 16 games for his country, scoring just once, and in the last eight matches, he has failed to hit the target. During the same spell, he has failed to assist a single goal. And critically, while Germany have impressed at Euro 2012 in wins against Netherlands and Portugal, Podolski has arguably been his side's greatest weak point.
|PODOLSKI VS GERMANY LEGENDS
Additionally, Podolski faces heavy competition from Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. The former is a favourite of Low's, and while an injury-plagued club season will limit his playing time at Euro 2012, his talent will not be left on the bench indefinitely. Assuming he develops into the world class star all the German big-wigs have touted him as, one of Podolski, Mesut Ozil or Thomas Muller will have to make way.
As for Reus, the 23-year-old carried Borussia Monchengladbach to an improbable fourth-placed finish in the Bundesliga last season and to many was the country's best player. He will be at a far better club, Borussia Dortmund, next season, and will have every opportunity to be a big star for Germany.
Schurrle, Gotze and Reus are just the beginning of Podolski's competition: the list goes on and on. Talent springs forth eternally from the Bundesliga, and there are a dozen or more youngsters who could put pressure on Podolski's role even before he turns 30.
For now, the Poland-born attacker is at an advantage: the suspended Jerome Boateng aside, Germany are expected to use the same first XI to face Denmark as in the previous group stage matches, meaning that the spot on the left wing is Podolski's to keep or to lose. In the past, Low has been hesitant to replace his favourites - Per Mertesacker, for example, only recently lost his starting role to Mats Hummels despite long being criticised as a lesser player. But the trainer has also shown that once he does make a change, he rarely reverts back: goalkeeper Rene Adler knows this all too well.
Sunday's match against Denmark will mark a personal milestone for Podolski, and it is an achievement he should be proud of. But he mustn't be too quick to celebrate: even as he reaches a century of caps, his starting role is in danger. Podolski has longevity - now he needs to regain his quality.