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Two match-winners

A 'great lad' and a great shot

It could have been over in a flash but Manuel Neuer had other ideas. First, he pulled off a brilliant reflex save to keep out a low drive from Yaya Sanogo on seven minutes. He then made a one-handed save from Mesut Özil’s penalty a minute later. and cleared his lines on 23 minutes as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bore down on goal. “We were lucky because the best goalkeeper in the world showed his quality,” said Pep Guardiola in his summary of the opening stages of the match against Arsenal that ended in a convincing 2-0 win. The boss was keen to praise Manuel Neuer for his display in goal.

“Perhaps we were lucky at the start,” said the current World Goalkeeper of the Year who was modest about his contribution to the first leg match in the Champions League Round of 16. But luck alone doesn’t tell the full story. Neuer knew exactly what he was doing, especially with the penalty save from Özil: the pair know each other well from the Germany squad and their time together at Schalke.

“I know his approach,” explained Neuer, “he takes plenty of time and thinks about where to put the ball during his run-up. You have to wait for ages. I thought he was going to aim for the left corner, the way I dived. It was a good job I waited a bit so I had the option to cover the middle.” Neuer’s right hand shot up to make the save.

Neuer’s brilliance underlined once again why Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently described him as an “outstanding success factor. He’s not just the best keeper in the world, he’s also very important away from the pitch. He’s a great lad who loves Bayern Munich exactly the way you hope for.” As far as Uli Hoeneß is concerned, Neuer is “priceless. It’s incredible how he plays and the way he creates a feeling of security. If you’re a defender, you can make a back pass without looking and he’ll kick it with his right or left foot. That’s really brilliant!”

'True Champions League level'

That could also apply to the shot of the night: the opening goal from Toni Kroos on 54 minutes that curved perfectly into the top corner. “I try to help the team as much as I can and I think it worked really well,” said the 24-year-old who was voted UEFA Man of the Match, and not just because of his goal. Kroos netted his last European goal twelve months again in the away game at  Arsenal at the same stage of the competition.

Toni finished on 172 touches of the ball - no other player from Germany or the Bundesliga has clocked up as many in the Champions League - and 97 percent pass completion, proving what everybody could see: almost all Bayern’s attacks went through Kroos. He could have scored another with two fine shots, one of them off the post, and he set up the situation that led to the penalty and red card for Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny on 40 minutes.

“I congratulated him on his great performance,” said Hoeneß later on. And Guardiola was also very happy with his midfielder: “He played at a very, very high level, a truly Champions League level.” Kroos was also happy ”that everything went well.” However, he also knows the team can only really celebrate in three weeks time: “That was just the first step.”