Mario Gomez was seconds away from becoming a footnote at a third straight major tournament.
Now he's in the spotlight.
Gomez scored for Germany in a 1-0 victory over Portugal in their European Championship opener on Saturday, moments before he was due to be substituted by Miroslav Klose.
Klose was on the touchline, ready to come on as soon as the fourth official gave the sign.
Instead, Gomez headed in a deflected cross and nearly scored another before finally being replaced by Klose.
"It was the most beautiful and important goal of my Germany career. I wanted to pay back the coach for his trust in me," Gomez said Monday.
Gomez was aware that Klose was waiting on the touchline.
"I saw him but I knew that I still had one more chance," he said.
With Klose still lacking match sharpness after playing little since March because of a thigh injury and back problems, Gomez was picked to start ahead of Coach Joachim Loew's preferred striker in recent years.
Loew led reporters to believe Klose would be his first choice.
"By now, you should know that I like to spring a surprise every now and then, that I am unpredictable," Loew said.
The choice was logical, however, in view of Klose's struggles to get fit at age 34 and Gomez's performances this season.
Saying that "a coach is not an idiot," Loew said he had the insight of watching players in training and being close to them every day. He also acted on his gut feeling.
"Mario did not have the ideal game, but he did his defensive duties well and he scored the winner," Loew said.
Gomez was expected to make his international breakthrough at the 2008 Euros, only to be remembered for a glaring miss from one meter out in the must-win group match against Austria. He also failed to play a major role at the 2010 World Cup.
"Everyone knows that my last two tournaments were not that great. But I've developed a lot over the last two years and I've scored many goals," Gomez said.
Gomez has scored 54 Bundesliga goals over the past two seasons. He added 12 in the Champions League this season -- the most after Lionel Messi — to lead Bayern Munich to the final where it lost to Chelsea.
Klose's record of 63 goals in 117 matches for Germany, however, is a big obstacle in Gomez's path. But Klose's fitness problems have given Gomez an opportunity.
"It's never been that close between us, never so difficult for the coach to choose between us," Gomez said, adding that he got along well with Klose in private.
Gomez could now expect to remain the starting forward – unless Loew pulls another surprise when Germany meets Group B opponents, the Netherlands in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.
"I don't say, 'Never change a winning team.' I am not ruling out some changes," Loew said.