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VfB Stuttgart's half-Spanish striker Mario Gómez insists family pride will be at stake when the Bundesliga title-holders welcome the might of FC Barcelona to the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion in Group E on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old has made his mark in Germany over the last 12 months, helping Stuttgart end a 15-year wait for a Bundesliga title, marking his senior international debut in February with a goal, and beating a host of stellar names to claim the German Footballer of the Year award. Yet with the UEFA Champions League returning to the Swabian city for the first time in three and a half years, Gómez is hoping to make an impression even closer to home. "The Spanish side of my family are all Real Madrid [CF] supporters so they will have extra cause to cheer Stuttgart on," he said. "Hopefully I can satisfy them."
Gómez owes his Spanish blood and Latin name to his father, José, a man who played a big role in his early development and whose love of the game in his homeland has evidently rubbed off on his son. "I used to love watching Romário when I was a youngster," Gómez recalled. "He really was excellent and the memories of him are very special to me." These betray a grudging respect for Barcelona; one which extends to Frank Rijkaard's current charges although the youngster hopes a partisan home crowd can help unsettle the visitors, saying: "Barcelona are a very strong side but we're at home so we will have big support and that could be key. This is not simply a big game for me but a big game for the whole team."
With four goals, Gómez is the only Stuttgart player with more than a solitary Bundesliga strike this season, eclipsing the likes of Ewerthon, Cacau and Ciprian Marica. He has some way to go before reaching the mark of 1,000 career goals Romário recently achieved, though it is to the great Gerd Müller that he has been compared. Standing at almost 1.90m the likeness is not immediately obvious but an international record of three goals in three games shows promise and a strike against Barcelona will help cement his reputation – and a place in family folklore.
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