Munich: Mario Gomez has been waiting patiently for his opportunity. It may come in one of the biggest games of the season. Gomez is expected to return to Bayern Munich's starting lineup against Barcelona for the first leg of Champions League semifinals on Tuesday after spending most of the season playing as back-up to Mario Mandzukic.
Mandzukic is suspended for the game and Gomez is the logical choice to step in. Gomez was injured at the start of the season, and newcomer Mandzukic used his chance to establish himself in the starting 11 and relegate Germany's top striker to the bench.
Gomez took his fate stoically, refraining from his usual grumbling despite being Bayern's highest scoring striker during the previous two Bundesliga seasons with 54 goals in total.
Mandzukic was brought to the club after Bayern lost the Champions League final to Chelsea at home and club president Uli Hoeness suggested Gomez might just not be good enough. While the player scored a lot of goals, Bayern failed to win a single title in two seasons.
Gomez scored 12 goals last season in the Champions League, two fewer than Lionel Messi, and was instrumental in getting Bayern to the final. "Mario Gomez has a scoring rate like perhaps Gerd Mueller," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said Monday.
Heynckes said he is pleased to have "two top strikers" for the match, referring also to Peru veteran Claudio Pizarro who is expected to start on the bench. In the build-up to the match, Heynckes has given Gomez more playing time and he scored six goals in the past three games, including a hat trick in a six-minute span after coming on as a late substitute.
Gomez is eager to get as much playing time as possible ahead of the World Cup next year in Brazil. Germany coach Joachim Loew already has experimented with a "false No. 9" system, a formation that doesn't include a true striker.
Gomez might also need to make a case for himself at Bayern, which reportedly is interested in signing Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.
As a boy, Gomez had posters of Barcelona on his bedroom walls. The son of a Spanish father and German mother, Gomez was a fan. Now, he could help end their hopes of reaching the final.