Soccer

Euro 2012: Mario Gomez to lead attack for Germans

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP)

One of the defining moments in the Germany career of Mario Gomez was a spectacular miss at the 2008 European Championship - hardly a recommendation for a striker.

Gomez, incredibly, managed to miss an empty net from one meter (yard), shooting high over the crossbar in a match against co-host Austria that Germany needed to win to advance.

It did, thanks to a free kick goal from captain Michael Ballack. The team reached the final, and lost to Spain 1-0.

In the four years since then, Ballack has been forced off the team and Gomez has matured into the Bundesliga's top domestic striker and now may be his time to finally come through for Germany.

Gomez chased away some demons from the past by returning to Vienna and scoring twice in Germany's 2-1 win over Austria in qualifying for this year's tournament.

At club level, Gomez has always had more success than in the national team, where for long he has played second fiddle to Miroslav Klose, preferred by Germany coach Joachim Loew.

Gomez, whose father is Spanish and mother is German and who is a Barcelona fan, set a German record by averaging 0.52 goals a match in three seasons for Stuttgart that included a Bundesliga title.

He had a difficult start in Bayern Munich under coach Louis van Gaal and nearly left the club but settled down to become the club's leading scorer.

He scored 28 goals in the 2010-11 Bundesliga season as Bayern finished third. He has 26 this season, notched 12 to help Bayern reach the Champions League final and has 41 goals in 49 matches in all competitions this season. And he scored the last-minute goal that gave Bayern a 2-1 home win over Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals.

National team manager Oliver Bierhoff said the player who most impressed him during the season was Gomez.

''As a (former) striker, I am pleased that he's shaken off setbacks and scored so many goals,'' Bierhoff said.

Gomez is tall and sometimes looks deceptively awkward in his movements, something he has in common with Bierhoff, a former Germany striker who scored the decisive goal that gave the country its last title at the 1996 European Championship.

With Germany seemingly always right up there in FIFA rankings, it's easy to overlook the fact that it has not won anything since then. It was third in the last two World Cups and runner-up to Spain at Euro 2008.

But Germany was the first team to qualify for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine and won all 10 qualifying matches. Gomez contributed six goals in that campaign.

Gomez has 21 goals in 50 games for Germany and he finally could be the starting striker at a major tournament. Loew prefers a one-striker system and that spot usually goes to Klose, who has 63 goals in 114 games for Germany.

But Klose, who is now with Italian club Lazio, has not played since March after tearing a muscle in his thigh and is in a race against time to get fit.

That could be Gomez's opportunity. Loew says he is not sure if Klose will be ready already for the opening match against Portugal.

Publicly at least, Gomez gives the impression of being more Germanic cool and efficient than the emotional extrovert of the southern type. He speaks little of his private life, although he has a passion for tennis and beach volleyball.

''I don't want to talk about my strengths and weaknesses,'' Gomez said. ''I'll let the public discuss that.''



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