Schweinsteiger set for 100th cap
When he thought back to the youthful, carefree time of his Germany debut, a smile crossed Bastian Schweinsteiger’s face. Back in the early summer of 2004, a blond 19-year-old kid took his place in the national team set-up, joining forces with Lukas Podolski to be hailed as the bright stars of a better future for German football. “Poldi and I were easily the youngest players. A great deal has changed, not only in terms of our football, but also the level of expectation,“ recalled Schweinsteiger as he reviewed nine years in a Germany shirt, a career which began unpromisingly in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Hungary on 6 June 2004.
On Tuesday evening, Schweinsteiger can become the 12th German player to join the elite ‘Centurions’ Club’ if he appears in the final 2014 World Cup qualifier away to Sweden. “A hundred caps is a number that fills me with pride. It’s very special because it can’t be taken for granted. And I hope I play lots more internationals after this,” said the 29-year-old. His yearning for a trophy success in national colours remains great: “It’s a motivating factor, not only to be one of the best players, but also to be part of the best team. It’s one of my big targets,” he declared.
The missing 37 caps
Schweinsteiger has won everything there is to win with Bayern, after many close shaves and disappointments, including the decisive missed penalty in the 2012 Champions League final. However, the midfielder rectified that with the elite European title last season, part of FCB’s historic treble. And then there was the crowning glory from a pro’s point of view, his victory in the vote for German Footballer of the Year. “I’m proud of the award, but I know it’s very closely linked with how things went at Bayern. So it’s also an award for the team,” insisted Schweinsteiger, typically placing collective effort ahead of individual achievement.
Both for his club and for his country, under Jürgen Klinsmann and then Joachim Löw, the Bavarian native grew from being cheeky young Schweini to become a leading figure in the dressing room hierarchy and vice-captain, playing an important role in all the major tournaments between 2006 and 2012. And if he had not missed fully 37 international fixtures over the years, due to injury, suspension or duties with Germany’s biggest club, he would have passed the 100-cap milestone a long time ago and be already closing in on Lothar Matthäus, Germany’s most-capped player with 150 appearances.
Key figure in treble triumph
“In my opinion, he’s one of the three best midfielders in German footballing history,” former Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes told kicker magazine. “Bastian has matured into a real personality and was a key figure in us winning the treble,” continued Heynckes, who rates the FCB youth product on a par with Spanish world and European champions Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
However, Schweinsteiger has yet to collect honours in a Germany shirt. “It hurts even more when you fall short just before the finishing line,” the player said after defeat to the Spanish in the EURO 2008 final. The Germans made the World Cup semis in 2006 and 2010 but would ultimately finish third on both occasions. Their next tilt at the world crown comes next summer: “With Bayern I’ve won the Champions League, the leading European club trophy. Now I want to win the biggest prize with the national team too,“ he declared.