Germany's Podolski's starting spot under threat
BERLIN (Reuters) -- Germany winger Lukas Podolski must add to his 40 international goals in 80 appearances when they host lowly Azerbaijan in a Euro 2012 qualifier in front of his Cologne crowd on Tuesday or risk losing his starting spot.
Podolski has yet to hit top form for club or country this season and he was substituted in Germany's 1-0 win at Belgium in their first qualifier on Friday.
"In the second half his performance dropped," Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters. "He was not really in the game."
Talented Toni Kroos came on for him in the 70th minute and the exciting 20-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder is hoping to become Podolski's main threat for a starting spot on the left wing.
"It is no secret I can play on the left," Kroos said on Monday. "If I think I can rise to the demands of the job then I also want to play," he told Kicker magazine. "It is only normal to be that ambitious."
Cologne's Podolski, who has scored in every second international he has played, remained confident.
"There is always pressure on me because I want to win. Scoring a few goals (against Azerbaijan) would come in handy," Podolski told the German soccer federation website (www.dfb.de).
Apart from the 25-year-old's form, the only other concern for Loew is the absence of injured left back Marcell Jansen, who will most likely be replaced by Heiko Westermann.
Germany, third in the 2010 World Cup, will also be missing captain Michael Ballack, who is still lacking match practice after a three-month injury break.
Azerbaijan, who also played Germany in the World Cup qualifiers, will be defending in numbers but the Muslim month of Ramadan, where fasting in the day is followed by feasts at night, has posed some fatigue problems for former Germany coach Berti Vogts.
"It does not look good for us because we are in the middle of the Ramadan," Azerbaijan coach Vogts said. "My players have problems with that and especially since we have some injuries as well."
The Azeris' biggest loss is their top striker, Afran Ismailov, who is out injured and has scored five goals in six Europa League matches for his club Karabagh Agdam this season.
Germany: 1-Manuel Neuer; 16-Philipp Lahm, 14-Holger Badstuber, 17-Per Mertesacker, 5-Heiko Westermann; 7-Bastian Schweinsteiger, 6-Sami Khedira, 13-Thomas Mueller, 8-Mesut Ozil, 10-Lukas Podolski; 11-Miroslav Klose.
Azerbaijan: Kamran Agayev; Elnur Allahverdiyev, Sasha Yunisoglu, Rashad Sadikhov, Maxim Medvedev; Alexander Chertoganov, Mahir Shukurov, Rashad Sadigov; Fabio Luis Ramim, Vagif Javadov, Rauf Aliyev.