THEY like their goalkeepers in Germany and that is good news for Manuel Neuer, the athletic and imposing last line of defence whose string of outstanding performances have helped Die National Mannschaft to their first World Cup final in 12 years.
The Bayern Munich ’keeper has conceded just four goals in six games as Germany progressed impressively to tomorrow’s showdown with Argentina at the Maracana stadium.
Neuer has enjoyed much of the spotlight not just for his shot-stopping but for the way he at times played almost as a sweeper. In the close-fought 2-1 win over Algeria in the second round, Neuer spent much of the game outside his own box, sweeping up long balls, cutting out forward passes and even on occasion outsprinting Algerian strikers.
His distribution was exemplary and his commanding presence another reason the Germans have looked so formidable so far.
“Algeria frequently evaded our pressing game by playing long balls and they did it well because we looked very vulnerable,” German coach Joachim Löw said after the game.
“It was good that Manuel was there to tidy up at the back. That’s part of his game. You get matches like this at tournaments and you need to fight.”
Neuer is not the first goalkeeper to find fame for bold excursions outside his box. Peruvian Ramon Quiroga at the 1978 World Cup, and Colombian Rene Higuita in 1990, both made headlines with their antics.
But while Quiroga was booked in the Polish half after bringing down an opponent, and Higuita’s catastrophic dribble led to Cameroon’s second-round win, Neuer never looked in any danger of being caught out of position.
His past as an outfield player in youth football helps him read the game quicker than most other ’keepers and he still likes to play outfield in training when given the chance.
Former Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl calls him the “Ice Cube” for his coolness under pressure and Oliver Kahn, the ’keeper who captained Germany the last time they reached the World Cup final in 2002, praised his footballing skills as well as his goalkeeping ones.
His one-handed injury-time save from Karim Benzema in the quarter-final against France was one of the saves of the tournament so far.
“Everyone knows that he is a wonderful footballer who can play really well,” Kahn said. “But what is crucial is that in important situations he can rescue the victory. That is ultimately what he will be measured by. He has proven at this World Cup that he is currently the world’s best goalkeeper.”
Neuer is one of the personalities of an outstanding German team. He did the voice for one of the characters in the German-language version of Monsters University, the Disney animated movie, and once won 500,000 euros for charity in Germany’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
At 6ft 4in and 14st 6lb, Neuer is an Atlas of a man who looks like he could carry the team on his shoulders. A meme doing the rounds in Germany after the Algeria game revised Germany’s line-up to read: Neuer; Neuer, Neuer, Neuer, Neuer; Neuer, Neuer, Neuer; Neuer, Müller, Neuer.
That respect is partly down to the fact that Germans have an admiration for goalkeepers that few other nations share. The man between the posts has won the German player of the year ten times since 1960, compared to just twice since 1974 in England, four times since 1976 in Italy, and five times since 1976 in Spain.
His already rising stock will increase further if Neuer lifts the World Cup tomorrow and surpasses Kahn, Germany’s last great goalie. Kahn won the Player of the Tournament in 2002 but his team lost 2-0 to Brazil in the final.
With attacking football making a comeback at this World Cup, Neuer probably won’t repeat Kahn’s feat of winning the Golden Ball for the tournament’s outstanding player.
But if he walks away from the Maracana with a winner’s medal then that will not matter one little bit.