- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France (AP) - Lukas Podolski was born in Poland but plays for Germany, and Thursday’s match between the countries at the European Championship promises to be another emotional experience.

“It’s a special game for me. Everyone knows the story,” Podolski said Tuesday at Germany’s tournament base. “I was born in Poland, and I have friends and a large part of my family still living there.”

Podolski scored twice in his first game against Poland at Euro 2008 but did not celebrate out of respect for the country. There were three more games against Poland in which he did not score, a 2-2 draw in a friendly in Gdansk on Sept. 6, 2011, and then the qualifying games for Euro 2016. Poland won the first game in Warsaw for its first win over Germany in 19 attempts.

Podolski, who was born in Gliwice and has Polish citizenship, paid tribute to the country’s recent progress - Sunday’s 1-0 win over Northern Ireland was Poland’s first European Championship victory - and he wished the side luck, though not at Germany’s expense.

“The Poles have made great strides in recent years. Players are playing abroad and they have lots of young players coming through. It’s the most dangerous opponent in the group for us,” Podolski said. “I hope we’re first and the Poles second coming out of the group.”

Though no longer a first-choice for Germany coach Joachim Loew, the 31-year-old Podolski spoke of his pride at participating in his seventh major tournament.

“It’s outstanding. I’m looking forward to it. I look forward to it every time,” the Galatasaray forward said. “It’s clear that in 12 years at the German football federation not everything went smoothly, also with the clubs. But that’s the way it is in sport, sometimes it’s good, other times bad.”

Podolski, who was brought to West Germany by his family when he was 2 years old in 1987, came to prominence at Cologne, where he scored 46 goals in 81 league games before being signed by Bayern Munich in 2006.

He was unable to establish himself at Bayern and managed only 15 Bundesliga goals in three seasons before rejoining hometown club Cologne in 2009. Podolski left again after the club’s 2012 relegation, spending three seasons at Arsenal, including a half-season loan at Inter Milan, before making the move to Galatasaray last year.

Despite upheaval at the Istanbul-based club, Podolski managed a successful season, helping Galatasaray win the Turkish Cup with the winning goal in the final.

Throughout it all he has always been able to count on the backing of Germany coach Joachim Loew.

“He knows what my qualities are. I’m in the squad, I think I earned it,” Podolski said. “I played a good season in Turkey. I played 50 games and so I’m top fit, ready, and if the coach needs me, I’ll be there.

“When you have a coach who gives you trust and with whom you work for a long time, it’s always a special case.”

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