A tale of two keepers
© Foto-net

THE SEMIS REPLAYED - Young players are capable of doing brilliant things. Their natural pace, enthusiasm for the game and raw talent make them a joy to watch. Yet, like every human being, they can occasionally slip-up. A lapse of concentration, a show of petulance or and a lack of patience can lead to an error of skill or judgement. When a slip occurs in a semi-final of a FIFA event, their mistake feels like the end of the world.

Even though goalkeeping errors are perceived to be instances where games are lost, it is very rare that a stopper is hailed as a matchwinner. Take Spain's 2-1 victory over Ghana, for instance. It was Bojan who hit the headlines for his late, late goal - and subsequent sending off - but the contribution made by David De Gea, Spain's saviour between the sticks, went unnoticed and consequently unappreciated in comparison.

Arguably, the Atletico Madrid youngster was his side's Man of the Match on Wednesday night. On four separate occasions in Ulsan he stopped the Black Starlets from scoring through bravery, good decision making and excellent reflexes. The 16-year-old showed great heart to throw his body at the feet of Sadick Adams as the African striker bore down on goal. De Gea received a stray boot to the head, but continued with the minimum of fuss.

Then after Adams had received and excellent pass from Ransford Osei, De Gea came off his line to narrow the angle. It proved to be the right decision, as Ghana's No9 fired the ball into the side netting. Minutes later it was Osei who was left with his head in his hands when his header from six yards was superbly tipped over the bar. Then, in the second period of extra time, he denied Reading youngster Kelvin Bossman with another high calibre save.

Even though it is goals that win games, one should not underestimate the contribution made by De Gea throughout the tournament. His heroics in the quarter-final victory over France, together with fine performances against Honduras, Syria and Korea DPR have helped Juan Santisteban's side book a place in the final against Nigeria.

Oh Rene!
But spare a thought for Rene Vollath. While De Gea is rightfully being feted as a hero, the FC Nuremberg keeper probably feels crushed this evening, as his mistakes cost Germany dear. Vollath's inability to hold on to Yakubu Alfa's shot allowed Macauley Christantus to score his seventh of the tournament. Eight minutes later, he let Alfa's shot slip through his hands, leaving Heiko Herrlich's side with a mountain to climb.

Toni Kroos' strike after 33 minutes gave Germany hope, but they found no way through the Nigerian defence in the second half. Instead, it was the Africans who were gifted another goal when Mario Erb's misplaced pass fell at the feet of Kabiru Akinsola. The midfielder, spotting Vollath off his line, produced a perfect lob to seal a precious 3-1 victory.

Vollath had usurped Fabian Giefer's position as Herrlich's first-choice keeper following his display in Germany's 5-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Changwon. Since then, the teenager has been reliable when called upon in the Europeans' victories over the US and England, but this is a night he will want to forget.

It remains to be seen whether Herrlich will hand the responsibilities back to Giefer in Sunday's match for third place against Ghana, or possibly give the untested Kevin Trapp a try. Such decisions will not be affecting Golden Eaglets coach Yemi Tella. The Nigerian coach knows his strongest 11 and is now preparing for the final against Spain. From the start of the tournament, Tella has been predicting success for his side. In 72 hours we will find out if he is correct.