Lehmann's month to remember
In captain Michael Ballack and marksman Miroslav Klose, Germany have two candidates among the ten nominees for the adidas Golden Ball awarded to the outstanding player at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Ballack shone in a marauding midfield role, winning the Budweiser Man of the Match award against both Ecuador and Argentina. Klose, meanwhile, has fired an impressive five goals in six matches thus far. The Werder Bremen forward is in a great position to top the tournament's scoring charts and with it take the coveted adidas Golden Shoe award.
However, the deadly duo are not the only reasons why the Nationalmannschaft are preparing to take on Portugal on Saturday in the match for third place. Germany's progress to the last weekend of the tournament owes much to the safe hands of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann .
The Arsenal player kept the host nation in the hunt for the famous Trophy with a series of classy performances, before Klinsmann's men bowed out against Italy in the last four. The highlight of the experienced Lehmann's campaign surely came at the quarter-final stage, his penalty shoot-out heroics putting paid to tournament favourites Argentina.
With the German defence having coming in for much criticism prior to the tournament, Lehmann's composure and command of his penalty area soothed the nerves of those around him. In the process, the 36-year-old upheld his country's reputation as a producer of world-class goalkeepers.
Emerging at last from the shadows
The former Borussia Dortmund custodian had to wait a long time for his moment in the sun. The 2006 FIFA World Cup was his first major tournament, following many years in the shadow of Bayern Munich's Oliver Kahn, whom he replaced as first-choice keeper just two months before the tournament. The decision by national coach Jurgen Klinsmann was widely criticised at the time, but the doubters were soon silenced by Lehmann's supremely confident displays.
"Everybody appreciates it when their contribution is recognised," Lehmann said. "We all enjoy being appreciated for who we are and what we do. I consider this World Cup as the emotional highlight of my football career, because I've not been able to play here in Germany for three years."
Germany wins friends if not football
The goalkeeper's enjoyment of the past few weeks has not been confined to sporting matters. "Since I came back I've been very surprised by how open everyone is, and by the emotion and depth of feeling they have shown us every day. I will never forget this experience."
Sadly for Lehmann and his compatriots, the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final proved to be a bridge too far, with Italy ending their hopes with a 2-0 semi-final win. "Personally, I'm feeling worse two days after the match than I did immediately afterwards," Lehmann reflected. "I've now had time to mull it over and to grasp what it really means to miss out on an opportunity like this to reach the Final. It makes you realise just how bitter a defeat like this can be."
Looking to the future
Now is not the time for Germany's new No.1 to wallow in self-pity. At 9pm on Saturday the team will need to be back to their best as they face Luiz Felipe Scolari's Portugal in the play-off for third place in Stuttgart.
Victory in what the Germans call the 'little final' would provide a suitable conclusion to a heartening FIFA World Cup campaign. "Third place is worth a medal at the Olympic Games," Lehmann said. "It would be good for everyone, and especially for those players who have been used less during the tournament, to show what they can do on the international stage."
Ironically, these players include Lehmann's predecessor in goal, Oliver Kahn, who could well return as last line of defence in the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, ensuring that he makes at least one FIFA World Cup finals appearance on home soil. "As ever it will be the coach's decision, and of course I will accept it," Lehmann said. "If Oliver wants to play and the coaches agree, he has earned it. His attitude has been terrific during the World Cup and he has been a good team-mate to me personally."
The Arsenal keeper is still unsure as to whether he will prolong his international career after these finals. "Before I decide on my own future I will need to speak to the coach, which obviously raises the question of whether he will stay in the job or not. He has brought a completely new approach that has made us players extremely enthusiastic and highly motivated. If he now decides not to carry on, the disappointment would be massive, because no-one knows what would happen afterwards."
Right now the next thing on the agenda is the match for third place, before the players say a big thank you to the German faithful on Sunday. The team plan to make a final appearance before their fans at a huge celebration in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. In the words of Lehmann: "It's simply a way for us to thank our fans for the way they have supported us from the opening match through to the disappointment of defeat in Dortmund.
"It will be a very important moment. After the event, we will have the chance to reflect on our impressions and sensations from this World Cup, and this will bring the experience to an end on an emotional high point." German fans will also be hoping that this summer's showpiece event is not the last time they see Lehmann defending their country's goal.