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Why Miroslav Klose is the most underrated player in World Cup history

Germany's Miroslav Klose celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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Miroslav Klose celebrates his record-breaking 16th World Cup goal. (AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO – It's easy to forget about Miroslav Klose.

Germany's 7-1 demolition of Brazil on Tuesday captivated the world, but lost amid the calamity now known as the "Mineirazo" was the 36-year-old's historic achievement. Klose's goal in the 22nd minute against Brazil broke one of the more coveted records in all of sports – the most goals in World Cup history – and nobody seemed to notice.

It wasn't the most beautiful goal ever scored, but it was textbook Klose. He doesn't score with drive like Lionel Messi or panache like Ronaldo; he just positions himself perfectly and capitalizes on every opportunity, regardless of how slim the window. On Tuesday, he was given a dump-off pass in the box with a great angle, but was denied by Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar with his first attempt. It didn't matter. Klose collected the rebound and calmly slotted the ball into the right corner of the net for his World Cup-record 16th goal.

It was his second of the tournament after scoring against Ghana in the group stage of the tournament to tie the previous record of 15 held by Brazil's Ronaldo, and the moment wasn't lost on Germany coach Joachim Loew.

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Miroslav Klose answers questions during a press conference on Thursday. (AFP)

Miroslav Klose answers questions during a press conference on Thursday. (AFP)

"It is something really great for [Miroslav] Klose," Loew said after the game, "and it wasn't just a sensational performance from him [on Tuesday]. It's much more than that though. At his age (36), he's still playing at an extremely high level and is a big factor with the team."

To put the achievement in perspective, Landon Donovan is the highest-scoring American player and he has five World Cup goals in his career. Current captain Clint Dempsey has four. Jurgen Klinsmann, now the coach of the U.S. team, is tied for sixth all-time with 11 goals after playing in three World Cups for Germany. Pele had 12. Diego Maradona had eight.

[Photos: Top 15 scorers in World Cup history]

Klose now has 16, and a chance to add to his tally against Argentina in the World Cup final at Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Yet, he's not even close to being considered an all-time great. On the club level, he's logged some respectable stats for Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Kaiserslautern and current team Lazio. They aren't comparable to guys like Ronaldo, but he hasn't been a slouch either.

Even on the international level where he now owns the prestigious World Cup scoring record, he doesn't get loads of respect. Most tend to just view him as an ideal fit up top in the German scheme who takes advantage of the situation he's in and has a predatory instinct – like a Texas Tech quarterback running up his stats in a high-octane offense.

Maybe he's not as celebrated because of that image as "just being a poacher." Soccer fans tend to think of poachers as little more than lucky, right-place-at-the-right-time kind of guys. But Klose's innate ability to operate in tight pockets of space and finish in a split second are a rarity in the sport.

The amount of skill involved in scoring 16 goals in a World Cup is something in and of itself, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of Klose's run into the record books is the longevity involved.

Klose famously broke onto the international scene at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, scoring a record five header goals in the tournament. He was equally dangerous in 2006, tallying five goals to win the Golden Boot in Germany. In South Africa in 2010, he finished with four goals. And four years later, he's still a goal-scoring threat at age 36.

Between injuries, dips in form and just the general level of competition to make the German international side, it's remarkable that Klose was able to compete in four World Cups. Detractors will say that the mark is less impressive because it took him four World Cups to achieve it. But the fact that he's still competing at the highest level for one of the best international teams in the world – not to mention one that's made it to the semifinal of this tournament four consecutive times – is nothing short of remarkable.

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Miroslav Klose's sliding strike against Ghana tied him with Brazil's Ronaldo for most World Cup goals scored. (AP)

Miroslav Klose's sliding strike against Ghana tied him with Brazil's Ronaldo for most World Cup goals scored.  …

Perhaps part of the reason why Klose isn't so celebrated is the fact that he's not even the best player on his own team this campaign. (In fairness, he's started twice and been subbed on twice, so he may not even be one of the best 11 players on this German team, but that's no slight). The Germans have talent at every position, but one standout talent and potential heir to the scoring throne is midfielder Thomas Mueller. In South Africa in 2010, the then-20-year-old wunderkind won the Golden Boot for his five goals and three assists. And he's on a tear again this World Cup with five goals thus far – just one shy of Colombia's James Rodriguez for the most in the tournament.

German legend Gerd Mueller said in June that it's only a matter of time before the nation's latest prolific talent breaks the World Cup scoring record himself – Thomas Mueller now has 10 goals at age 24.

[Video: Germany, Argentina set for Sunday's final]

The elder Mueller may very well be right, but who knows what could happen in four years' time? Or in eight years' time if Thomas Mueller isn't able to reach the record in Russia in 2018? Staying in peak form for a decade is no easy task, and an injury could just as easily derail Mueller's pursuit of the all-time mark. Few in history have had the talent and sporting longevity to simply play in four World Cups. Klose is one of them; Mueller has a long way to go still.

Until it's in the record books, Klose is the man, and it's high time he gets credit for it.

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