11 forgotten international stars who shone after returning from the abyss

Jermain Defoe, England

As Jermain Defoe is welcomed back into the England squad over three years on since his last cap, Amit Katwala looks at the players who made an impact after a spell in the international wilderness

1. Mario Gomez (2015)

The Germany striker only missed out on the Golden Boot at Euro 2012 because he’d played more minutes than Fernando Torres, but found himself out of the squad for the World Cup in 2014 after missing much of the preceding season with a serious knee injury.

Gomez played just four games in over three years for Die Mannschaft, before being recalled to Joachim Low’s squad in November 2015 to kick-start his stalled international career.

The 30-year-old proved he still had plenty to offer at Euro 2016, with the winner against Northern Ireland in the group stage, plus a goal against Slovakia in the last 16. He’s still in the squad – although he'll sit out tonight’s game against England with a knock.

2. Roger Milla (1990)

The Cameroon striker once imprisoned 120 pygmies in the basement of the national stadium, and forced them to play in a novelty football tournament. That should be the only thing anyone remembers about Roger Milla, but he’s better known for his four-goal haul and geriatric dance moves at the 1990 World Cup.

The Cameroon striker once imprisoned 120 pygmies in the basement of the national stadium, and forced them to play in a novelty football tournament. That should be the only thing anyone remembers about him

Milla was 38 then, and his inclusion in the Indomitable Lions side was controversial. He’d retired from the team in 1987, but returned to the fold after receiving a pleading phone call from Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya.

He came off the bench to drive Cameroon’s unlikely run to the quarter-finals, scoring braces against Romania and Colombia, and setting up two goals in the 3-2 defeat to England. Milla was still at it four years later, taking a break from tormenting pygmies at the age of 42, but managed just the one goal as Cameroon were knocked out in the group stages.

3. Martin Palermo (2009)

The Boca Juniors striker’s two claims to fame were missing three penalties in a single international game against Colombia in 1999, and breaking his leg after a wall he jumped on while celebrating fell on him. Then Diego Maradona came along.

The playing legend’s time in charge of Argentina was colourful, and the recall of Palermo in 2009 was one of the more surprising incidents. At 35, he hadn’t played for the national team in 10 years when Maradona brought him back into the squad, but he repaid the faith with a crucial injury-time winner against Peru to help Argentina reach the 2010 World Cup.

Maradona (who celebrated the goal with a swan dive in the torrential rain) called it the ‘Miracle of San Palermo’ and promised to take the striker with him to South Africa no matter what – a slight kick in the teeth for Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Palermo was very much the back-up option, but with Argentina already through, Maradona brought him on for the last 10 minutes of the final group game against Greece. He managed a goal, tapping in after a Lionel Messi shot was parried, which means (according to the Blizzard, anyway) he has the best goals-per-minute ratio in World Cup history.