At times he may look like a boxer in among Germany’s ballet dancers, but it’s abundantly clear that the national team needs a leading man - and that man is Mario Gomez, writes DW’s Matt Pearson.
Successful international sides are rarely comprised of the country’s best eleven players, and as with any team, balance is king. So while he may not be as skillful as Mario Götze, as aware as Mesut Özil or as rapid as Leroy Sane, Mario Gomez has become one of the world champion’s key men.
Joachim Löw’s experiments with Götze as a lone frontman in the first two games of this tournament were unconvincing at best. As Germany labored to a 0-0 draw with Poland last Thursday, the out-of-favor Bayern Munich man looked lost in the role – not strong enough to hold off center backs with his back to goal, not quick enough or confident enough to run in behind and forever drifting back in to the midfield.
It’s the last of these points that was the biggest problem. When Götze (or any ‘false nine') drops deep, it takes space away from the attacking midfielders, Germany’s real danger men.
Gomez the game-changer
Against Northern Ireland, the effect of the big striker's presence was immediate. Gomez’s physicality and natural tendency to play on the shoulder of the last man occupied the opponent's center backs and left acres of space in between Northern Ireland's defense and midfield, leading to a flurry of presentable chances. Özil, Götze and particularly Müller all could’ve scored in the opening 15 minutes.
In the end it was Gomez, who now plays his club football with Besiktas in Turkey, who broke the deadlock, after exchanging passes with Müller. It was a little scruffy compared to some of the team’s other moves but it counted – and it won the three points.
Of course, as Löw, Gomez and Müller all acknowledged after the game, Germany should’ve beaten Northern Ireland much more comfortably but they owe the fact they won at all to Gomez’ goal. The stiker expects that side of their game to improve:
"We have had a lot of chances,” Gomez said after the game. “The next step will be to take them and then this might be a good tournament,"
Despite a stellar career goalscoring record (242 goals in 418 appearances with Stuttgart, Bayern, Fiorentina and Besiktas) and finishing as joint top scorer at Euro 2012 – where he last started an competitive international - Gomez has barely played for Germany in the last few years. A knee injury and indifferent form scuppered his World Cup hopes in 2014, but the move to Turkey has seen him score 26 times in 33 league games this season.
While goals are of course critical, the inclusion of Gomez is most important because it adds new dimenstions to the way Germany play. It also gives the attack a strong focal point (see his chest-pass to Müller against Northern Ireland), and aerial threat (see the back post header in the same game) his intelligent leading of the line gives his side’s flair players what they need - time and space.
Müller, Özil and Götze (who was on the pitch less than an hour) had a combined 13 shots on goal on Tuesday, almost as many as the whole team in Germany’s other two games and Gomez himself should have at least doubled his tally when clean through just before the break.
The World Cup blueprint
This isn’t a new debate for the German team under Löw. After a strong start to the group stages of World Cup 2014, Germany faltered a little, drawing 2-2 with Ghana and squeaking past the USA in the group stage, before needing extra time to get past Algeria in the last 16.
From that point on, Miroslav Klose – the only recognized striker in that German squad – started every game as Germany went on to win the competition.
Gomez, like Klose, isn’t perfect. Most modern managers prefer a solo striker to be more mobile and perhaps contribute more to all round play. But Germany have mobility throughout and have more classy ball players than they know what to do with. They need a striker and Gomez is the best they’ve got.