Mario Gomez has surprised many by restoring balance to Germany's line-up, and, after missing out on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, he is far from finished yet.
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"Even if I play for just three minutes," said Mario Gomez before UEFA EURO 2016 kicked off, "I'll still try to give my best and be happy." With Germany coach Joachim Löw looking set to field Mario Götze as a 'false nine', the forward's hopes of featuring looked slim. How happy he must be feeling now.
Seen by many as a bulky centre-forward in the classic mould, Gomez was unsure of what to expect in France. Left out of Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad in the wake of an injury, he had grown used to watching from the sidelines. Remember too that he was sold by Bayern München when Josep Guardiola took charge in 2013, and that Löw has largely modelled his side on a Spanish template.
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Now, before a massive quarter-final against Italy, Gomez's stock has risen dramatically. The German attack proved to be rather blunt in the first two games, prompting Löw to select Gomez as a genuine forward in their third outing against Northern Ireland. It was little coincidence that the 30-year-old scored the game's only goal.
"I'm not only pleased with him for the goal, but also because he's able to tie down two defenders in the middle and creates space for his team-mates," said Löw afterwards. "He moved well and defended well."
A roaring success in Beşiktaş last season after being loaned out by Fiorentina, Gomez then followed up with another strike in the convincing 3-0 round of 16 triumph against Slovakia. In short, he now looks to be exactly what the world champions were lacking as they sought the perfect balance.
For many German fans, that will have come as a surprise. Long remembered for missing from point-blank range against Austria at UEFA EURO 2008, Gomez has never been universally popular. He does, however, have the figures to justify his presence, including 26 from 33 league games in Turkey last term, 26 in 44 UEFA Champions League outings and 138 from 236 Bundesliga matches. His tally of 29 goals in 67 games for Germany is also the best ratio in Löw's squad.
"I really only care about winning the European Championship," he explained on Wednesday, airing a sentiment that footballers can often be heard to express. "If the coach needs me for 15 minutes, I'll be there." In his case, however, it was easy to believe. After missing out on the party two years ago, Gomez is desperate to make up for lost time.
"I know what I'm talking about," he added. "I've played a few tournaments now, and a good round of 16 or group stage counts for nothing. So far, it's been a good tournament. For it to be great, we have to go all the way."