Mario Gomez's inclusion in the latest Germany squad for upcoming friendlies against Spain and Brazil raised more than a few eyebrows, but the statistics fully vindicate head coach Joachim Löw's decision.
The 32-year-old striker took his tally to six goals in his last 10 appearances with a brace in VfB Stuttgart's 2-1 win at Freiburg on Friday, lifting him clear of international teammates Sandro Wagner (Bayern Munich, four goals), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig, three goals) and Lars Stindl (Borussia Mönchengladbach, one goal) as the Bundesliga's highest-scoring German this calendar year.
Watch: Mario Gomez reacts to his Germany call-up
"It's always nice to be be in the Germany squad and to meet up with the guys," Gomez told bundesliga.com after netting his second Bundesliga double in three matches. "I'm really looking forward to the games."
Gomez has not played for Germany since scoring his 31st senior international goal in a 6-0 rout of Norway in FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying last April. A meagre return of just one goal from 12 Bundesliga outings for Wolfsburg during the first half of the 2017/18 campaign led many to believe it would be his last. They were wrong.
A winter move back to Stuttgart - whom he fired to the 2007 Bundesliga title before enjoying prolific spells at Bayern, Italy's Fiorentina and Turkish side Besiktas - followed by the appointment of Tayfun Korkut as VfB head coach collectively proved the turning point, reviving an international career that outwardly had run its course.
"I'm playing well, hopefully I'll be going to the World Cup," Gomez admitted. "I'd genuinely love to see [Freiburg's] Nils Petersen there, too. His equaliser was superb – the kind of goal Raul used to score. We deserved to win, though. The confidence [Korkut] has instilled in us from day one is plain for everyone to see. We're heading in the right direction."
That's putting it mildly. Spiralling uncontrollably towards the relegation zone at the start of the year, Die Schwaben are now on the cusp of the top six, thanks to a part-Gomez-, part-Korkut-inspired unbeaten run of seven matches – including five wins. Any lingering relegation concerns have been effectively laid to rest.
"We're not quite there yet with 37 points, but we're almost safe," explained Korkut, appointed on an 18-month contract following the dismissal of Hannes Wolf at the end of January. "I'm happy with the manner of the performance. We knew Freiburg would be a tough game, but we fully deserved to win. At the end of the day, Mario did what he does best."
Stuttgart are next in action at home to second-bottom Hamburg on 31 March, but not before Gomez returns to the international circuit in Düsseldorf and Berlin. A 2014 FIFA World Cup winner, relative veteran of 71 international caps and a seasoned Bundesliga goal-getter: Löw's pre-World Cup wildcard isn't quite so wild, after all.