It wasn't long ago that Mario Gomez’ international career seemed to be over. Yet the striker is back, and as Germany prepare to face Italy in the quarterfinals, Gomez has emerged as one of Joachm Löw’s key players.
When Mario Gomez followed Mats Hummels up to the podium at the media center at Germany's base camp in Evian-les-Bains on Wednesday, he did so with the confidence of having found the target in both of the games that he has started at Euro 2016.
After Joachim Löw had left Gomez out of the starting lineup in Germany's first two games, including a scoreless draw against Poland, the head coach finally sent the 30-year-old striker out for the opening whistle in their final group stage game against Northern Ireland.
Playing as an out-and-out striker, as opposed to the false 9 position Mario Götze had taken, Gomez paid back Löw's late-found faith in him, putting away the only goal Germany would need to win the match and finish top of Group C.
It was Gomez's 40th goal in his 66th game for the Nationalmannschaft, an impressive strike rate by anybody's standards. And it may just have cemented his role in the starting 11 for what he and his teammates hope will be a long tournament. Against Slovakia on Sunday, he made it 41 in 67.
This marks a remarkable comeback for the striker, who to speng his 31st birthday working - it happens to fall on the day of the final of Euro 2016, in July 10.
Injury followed by dip in form
Gomez was long out of favor with Löw, after a knee injury and a prolonged dip in form following his move from Bayern Munich to Fiorentina in 2013. He never did find his form at the Serie A side, but a loan spell in Istanbul, agreed last summer, turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. This past season saw Gomez explode for 26 goals in 33 games, leading Besiktas to the Turkish league title. That resurgence wasn't lost on coach Löw, who rewarded him with a call-up late last year.
However, the coach still wasn't completely convinced. He wasn't used at all in Germany's opening game of the tournament against Ukraine and almost seemed like an afterthought, when he was brought on for the last 20 minutes against Poland.
Germany's toothless attack against Poland, with Götze leading the line, seems to be what convinced Löw to go for Gomez. Now the Swabian with Spanish roots has every reason to hope for a third-straight start against Italy in Bordeaux on Saturday.
Just happy to be here
On Wednesday, Gomez, who appears far more at ease dealing with journalists than he did when he was younger, deftly deflected a reporter's question about his national team resurgence.
"I already said before the tournament that I would have been satisfied with playing just three minutes, if that is what the coach needed from me," he said. "I only care about advancing to the next round."
Gomez, who played when Italy beat Germany 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2012 European championship, also had all the right things to say about their quarterfinal opponents. He insisted that Saturday would not be about avenging that loss four years ago and that he bore no grudge against Italy, despite the fact that, things didn't go so well for him at Fiorentina.
"I had a great time there," Gomey said, "and I love Italy just as much as I did before."
He conceded that Italy's defense, anchored by Gianluigi Buffon, the only goalkeeper apart from Manuel Neuer who has yet to concede a goal in France, would be extremely tough to crack, but said he was convinced that Germany would find a way.
"Bayern Munich showed how you can score goals against the Italians (Juventus in the Champions League)," he said. "You have to invest a lot to do so. We will try to, and we will."
Yet despite his two goals in the two games he has started in the tournament, Gomez can't be absolutely certain that he will figure in coach Löw's plans on Saturday.
"The coach is flexible in his tactics," he said. "Sometimes he plays with a false 9, sometimes he doesn't. We'll just have to wait for the day of the match to find out."
The recent past, though, suggests that Löw would leave Gomez out at his own peril.