The stakes could barely be higher for Germany’s talented young keeper Manuel Neuer ahead of the biggest game of his life: Saturday's 2010 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final between the three-time world champions and two-time Trophy winners Argentina at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium.
What is more the 24-year-old Schalke shotstopper will be in a position to follow in the footsteps of his idol and Die Nationalelf predecessor Jens Lehmann.
It is almost four years to the day since Lehmann’s decisive role in the meeting between these two giants of world football at the same stage of Germany 2006. Back then, the former Arsenal custodian’s heroics in the host nation’s 4-2 penalty shoot-out success paved the way for an eventual third-place finish.
“I was with friends at a public viewing in Gelsenkirchen joining in the wild celebrations. But obviously I was also paying close attention to how Lehmann conducted himself during the game,” recalled Neuer, who at the time surely did not imagine he would be Germany’s No1 in the quarter-finals of South Africa 2010.
Exuberance of youth
“I have modelled myself on his modern style of goalkeeping,” said the imposing 6’3” figure of Neuer on Lehmann, who also began his career between the sticks at Schalke, Bundesliga runners-up in 2009/10. Publicly backed by Die Nationalmannschaft boss Joachim Low, is the up-and-coming shotstopper experiencing any nerves at the prospect of facing Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Co? “This is the biggest game of my career so far,” continued a player who won the first of his nine senior caps for Germany in a June 2009 friendly against United Arab Emirates.
“But ahead of a game like Saturday’s you need to have just the right level of tension. It’s my job to give the team a sense of calm,” added the confident youngster when interviewed by FIFA.com in the relaxed surroundings of Germany’s team hotel near Pretoria.
‘A touch of arrogance’
“You can already feel the pressure but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re still taking it as it comes,” said Neuer of the impressive performances by Low’s young tyros so far here in South Africa, none more so than the 4-0 and 4-1 wins over Australia and England respectively.
“It won’t be easy against a team packed with superstars like Argentina but we mustn’t show any weakness. We should perhaps even walk out with a touch of arrogance, especially if it goes to penalties,” added the keeper in a subtle nod to the 2006 shoot-out.
That said, Neuer is not the type to engage in mind games, preferring instead to maintain a positive outlook and focus on his own team’s strengths: “In terms of individual players the Argentinians are better, but we hope it will be like the England game. The way we operated together as a unit meant we were the better side.”
That said, despite having conceded just twice at the final tournament so far, the gifted gloveman can expect a busy afternoon on Saturday against a La Albiceleste side which have scored ten goals in their four games to date. Yet with Lehmann’s performance four years’ ago at Berlin’s Olympiastadion for inspiration, can Neuer can produce an equally decisive display and send his country through to the last four for the third consecutive finals?