KHARKIV, Ukraine – Germany reached the European Championship final in 2008, but as Britain’s top selling tabloid, The Sun, declared, it was no thanks to Mario Gomez.
In naming Gomez one of the top 10 flops of the tournament, The Sun, never shy to criticize with ferocity, wrote: “Germany’s route to the final was no mean feat – especially when you consider they were effectively playing with 10 men for their three group games. Gomez contributed next to nothing, with boss Joachim Low seeing sense in the quarterfinals to finally drop him.”
Had he read the passage, it would have stung Gomez.
Four years later, he’s well on his way to earning redemption.
Gomez had banged in goals for Bayern Munich in recent campaigns, yet fans of the German national team still had to be convinced, even with an impressive strike rate internationally. The tried and trusted Miroslav Klose was understandably first choice when fit. When Gomez flopped in the Champions League final in May, his detractors grew.
Low made a bold statement by starting Gomez, not Klose, against Portugal in Germany’s group opener on Saturday, and he was rewarded. With another decision to make, Low once again opted for Gomez against the Dutch in Kharkiv on a sticky Wednesday night, and the goals kept flowing.
Gomez scored twice, the first with a clinical finish, and Germany all but advanced to the quarterfinals and almost knocked the Netherlands, finalists at the 2010 World Cup, out of the tournament with a 2-1 win.
I’m very happy I justified the confidence the manager had in me. Mario Gomez
“(Through) everything that has happened, I’m proud to be here,” Gomez, who scored 42 goals for Bayern Munich in all competitions this season, said in a press conference. “And I’m very happy I justified the confidence the manager had in me.”
A confident striker can, if not single-handedly, go a long way toward leading a team to glory, and Gomez must be on a high. Low said he would tinker with his lineup against Denmark on Sunday, but rest assured Gomez won’t be the one making way.
“I said this week that what people say about players outside of the (team) isn’t important,” Low said. “I have my own way to judge them. He was really good. He was down a bit in 2008. He missed some chances. But he’s always come back and that’s (down to him) and his strength. He has class. I think it’s very important to the team.”
Gomez beat the offside trap, then turned central defender John Heitinga – having a miserable time – before giving Maarten Stekelenburg no chance in the 24th minute. In truth, Stekelenburg helped him in the 38th minute, committing too early and allowing Gomez to score from a fairly tight angle to make it 25 goals in 54 Germany appearances.
In an event blighted by fighting between fans, Gomez didn’t over celebrate when he got what would turn out to be the winner. “I turned to the side, looked up and saw a wall of orange, and I didn’t want to provoke anybody,” he said.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s position in the heart of midfield was never in jeopardy. However, he acknowledged he could do better after the win against Portugal.
He came through, setting up his roommate twice. It was easy to see they play at the same club, Bayern Munich.
Another Bayern Munich star, Dutchman Arjen Robben, didn’t fare as well, shackled by the twin tandem of Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski.
“I think Bastian can get a little better but he played a great game,” Low said. “I said after the first game you always feel his presence with Sami (Khedira) in midfield. Bastian can play a good tempo for 90 minutes, and his presence on the pitch is important.”
Netherlands manager Bert van Marwijk persisted with Robin van Persie – who struggled against Denmark – and even though van Persie scored with his right foot to halve the deficit in the 73rd minute, he wasn’t as efficient as Gomez. Two more chances went astray in the opening 20 minutes for RvP. It was only when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar entered in the second half did van Persie click.
They’ll both start, one would imagine, against Portugal on Sunday, when the Dutch need a win – at the very least – to advance.
Van Marwijk refused to criticize van Persie, but he did rip into his defenders and two holding midfielders, Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, without naming them. Presumably, Van Marwijk was more ticked with van Bommel, his son in-law and the captain, since he was hauled off at halftime in favor of malcontent Rafael van der Vaart.
Van Marwijk did name-check Gomez, though.
“The first goal came from nothing, but there were a few mistakes before that, particularly in the defense and in the middle of the field as well,” van Marwijk said. “There was just too much space for them, and we trained a lot in regards to that. Maybe there was a lack of courage. I think that today we weren’t strong enough or courageous enough in defense.”
Strong words from van Marwijk, and they were justified.
But Gomez played his part in adding to the Dutch misery in Ukraine.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.