When his mobile phone rang early in the morning of 15 May 2006, Kevin Kuranyi had no reason to expect bad news. Even when the caller, then national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, told him he had decided to leave him out of his squad for the upcoming  FIFA World Cup™ , the striker still thought it was a joke. In fact, it was only when Klinsmann insisted he was being "perfectly serious" that the penny dropped.

Kuranyi simply couldn't believe it: "It was the biggest blow of my career, like a dagger being thrust into my heart. The ground was taken from under my feet, just like that, in a couple of seconds," the forward said of the controversial decision. Klinsmann claimed at the time that the player had "not lived up to his potential in the previous few months" - perhaps a reference to his modest return of ten goals during the season - and surprisingly opted instead for Mike Hanke, despite his being suspended for the first two games of the finals.

Even the foreign media saw Kuranyi as "the sacrificial lamb of German football", as he was described in Spanish sports daily Marca. Prior to that, Kuranyi had been a firm fixture in the squad. In his first international under Klinsmann in August 2004 he had won the match against Austria almost single-handedly.

Now though, the disappointments of last summer are firmly behind him, and in the last three months the big, angular striker has proved he is back to his best. With goals and standout performances for Schalke 04, he has played his way back into the German squad under new coach Joachim Low after a 15-month absence. Kuranyi, who was born in Brazil but grew up in Panama, repaid his new boss's faith in him by scoring the first goal in the  3-1 victory over Switzerland in Dusseldorf . The bloody wound that he suffered to his face in so doing typified the determined manner in which the 1.90m forward went about his task. "He really threw himself into it," said Low in praise of his player.

"I've put the past behind me," Kuranyi told reporters recently. "Maybe I just want to do too much, and that's a mistake. I've got to make sure I take the pressure off myself and regain my old form. I'm going through a learning process at the moment," he added. Clearly a fast learner, Kuranyi was recently the man of the match in Schalke's 3-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring twice and setting up Gustavo Varela for the first goal. The 24-year-old was on target again last weekend in the 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin, when his header set his team on the way to victory - and perhaps even to the Bundesliga title. The win saw Schalke extend their lead to six points over closest rivals Werder Bremen.

Back to his best
Currently, Kuranyi is showcasing the kind of elegance, composure, determination and self-belief that he seemed bereft of just a few months back. "I'll show everyone what I can do. I'm a fighter," he told reporters before his recent recall to the national team.

His dedication to training has not only won him the renewed respect of Schalke's coach Mirko Slomka, but has also earned him the adulation of the fans of the Gelsenkirchen-based club, where he was made something of a scapegoat after the team's faltering start to the season. Expectations were naturally very high following his 7.5 million euro move from VfB Stuttgart to Schalke 04 in mid-2005, and time and time again Kuranyi was accused of complacency and a lack of commitment. Even his abrupt exclusion from the FIFA World Cup squad had not taught him a lesson, said critics, who only now are being silenced.

Off the field too, Kuranyi, with his jet black hair and dark brown eyes, cuts a dashing figure. Last year a German lifestyle magazine named him the best-groomed man of the year. He also won an award for "Beard of the Year 2006". For their part, German football fans can no doubt look forward to seeing more of Kuranyi in the national team colours - and not only in the TV adverts in which he frequently appears.