- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

PORTO SEGURO, Brazil (AP) - Lukas Podolski was a promising teenager when he made his debut for Germany 10 years ago. Now in his third World Cup, he’s a veteran in a young squad with a role that goes well beyond entertaining his teammates.

Podolski is popular with his fellow players for his easygoing, fun-loving manner and a quick wit.

But behind the outgoing personality is a steely determination.

“I am here to lift the World Cup title,” the Arsenal forward said on Saturday. “The 10 years have flown by and it would be great to complete the circle with the World Cup.”

Germany opens its World Cup campaign on Monday against Portugal in Salvador. It also faces Ghana and the United States in Group G.

Two years after joining the national team, Podolski earned the best young player award at the 2006 World Cup - ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - and became one of the team’s regulars.

Podolski slightly fell off the radar in Germany with the rise of new stars in his position, such as Marco Reus and Andre Schuerrle. But Reus is out of the World Cup because of injury and Podolski could get the nod for the starting 11 ahead of Schuerrle following some impressive recent performances.

Podolski played a role in five of Germany’s six goals in the final warm-up match against Armenia, scoring one himself. He also came off the bench in the earlier 2-2 draw with Cameroon, leading a second-half German rally.

Podolski was a substitute in both of those matches, but the 29-year-old could be in the starting line-up on Monday.

“I’ve been feeling good in training, I’ve played well and I am 100-percent ready to play,” he said.

Podolski said he would have no problem coming off the bench either.

“Each our 23 players will be alert and ready to step in at any time,” he said.

Podolski, who has 114 caps and has scored 47 goals, said the German team had evolved over the past 10 years into a side that plays some of the most entertaining football in the world.

“We’ve developed, now we can really speak about the World Cup title,” he said. “The World Cup is always something special and I hope we can go far.”

Like striker Miroslav Klose, Podolski was born in Poland and grew up in Cologne, his first big club. He had an unhappy stint at Bayern Munich before returning to Cologne and then moving to Arsenal in 2012.

Podolski’s other side emerged in an infamous incident in 2009, when a dispute on the pitch ended with Podolski slapping then captain Michael Ballack during a World Cup qualifier against Wales. Podolski was unhappy that Ballack was not passing him the ball. Podolski was never punished.

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