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'Best in the world'

Milestone man Manuel excels against France

There were just seconds left in Manuel Neuer’s 50th game for Germany when the keeper threw up a hand to beat away a goalbound Karim Benzema drive and secure his team’s place in the World Cup semi-finals at the expense of France. It was only the last of a string of crucial blocks by the Bayern stalwart.

“You have to make those saves,” the 28-year-old modestly reflected after a performance in which he showed all his class on the line, in the penalty box and also as the first man in the build-up play. “With Benzema you know he’ll always have a go, because he likes to get his shots away quickly. So I was ready,” Neuer continued.

22 clean sheets

Following a display against Algeria that redefined the concept of the keeper-sweeper, Neuer reverted to a more conventional goalkeeping style in his milestone match. He kept a 22nd clean sheet for his country, prompting effusive praise from head coach Joachim Löw. “It’s an amazingly good feeling for the defence when they know they have a keeper who dominates the penalty area, saves brilliantly on his line, and is a great player outside the box.”

Ever since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Löw continued, the 1.99 metre shot-stopper has been “one of the very best keepers in the world, if not the best. He’s so incredibly composed. It makes everyone in the team feel secure.”

His team-mates, and especially those from Bayern, long ago recognised Manuel’s quality. “I can’t stand there after every match and repeat that Manuel Neuer is world class. I’ve been saying it for years,” remarked captain Philipp Lahm. “If someone does break through, we know we’ve got Manu there,” added Toni Kroos. In the 34th minute on Friday, for example, when Neuer made a superb block to deny Mathieu Valbuena with his left hand. “We’re lucky to have him,” Kroos continued.

‘Whole new ball game’

It is tempting to make comparisons with 2002, when Oliver Kahn illuminated the tournament in Japan und Korea and became known as The Titan. Kahn conceded just one goal in Germany’s six matches prior to the Final, although it was his mistake that allowed Ronaldo to score the opening goal in Brazil’s 2-0 win.

Neuer has let in three at the current World Cup so far, but he is now aiming to do better than Kahn when the foes from 2002 meet in Belo Horizonte next Tuesday. “It’s a whole new ball game,” he said. The hard-earned win over the French has strengthened Neuer’s belief that Germany can reach the final this year: “We’ve come through against a good team. That’s a very good sign.”