Amid all the debate and hymns of praise for the German team, it is Bayern Munich ’keeper Manuel Neuer who is in the middle of it all.
After the group stages, I praised the pace and courageous offensive style that was shown, but predicted that tactics would take over in the round of 16. This did happen with a few teams, but for the others the pace and offensive strategy was still there. On top of it, there were many matches which were decided in the final minutes, and five of the eight went into extra-time!
In two cases, it came down to a penalty shootout. At past World Cups, the round of 16 established clear-cut lines and separated the wheat from the chaff. Today, countries like Costa Rica and Colombia have reached the final eight. This can’t be praised enough.
I believe that the Latin American countries have prepared intensively for this tournament — so intensively that even the usually dominant Brazil, after winning a dramatic shootout against Chile, must now watch out for Colombia. Before the quarterfinal against Colombia, it should probably reconsider its playing style. Brazil does not live from its teamwork, but rather from the great class of its individuals. If you want to be a world champion, it is the class of the entire team, not the individuals, that is decisive. For the German team as well, the second-round match against Algeria was anything but easy. Against France, it cannot afford to give up so many balls the way it did in the first half against Algeria. In the second period, the Germans got the match under control and it was just a question of time before the goals came.
Amid all the debate and hymns of praise for the German team, it is Bayern Munich ’keeper Manuel Neuer who is in the middle of it all. His actions far outside the penalty area prevented Germany from falling behind.
Some journalists are describing Neuer as a combination of Sepp Maier, our goalie at Bayern and the West German team which won the 1974 World Cup, and myself. What they mean is that with Neuer, there has been a rebirth of the old libero or sweeper position.
I would rather put it this way: Neuer is a mop-up player, and an outstanding one at that. But he is not a libero, because that position also means performing offensive tasks. Oliver Kahn calls Neuer’s actions hara-kiri. Well, on two occasions against Algeria things really did get dangerously close.
If Neuer had been a fraction of a second too late, he might have seen the red card. Although France looks stronger than Algeria, I think the Germans will have an easier time of it in the quarterfinals. It is because they know the French and every player will be more focussed than was the case in previous matches.
One is permitted to shed a few tears for the surprisingly strong Mexicans.
They were unlucky in how the Netherlands turned the match around with goals in the final couple of minutes. Switzerland, under Ottmar Hitzfeld, also played and fought fantastically well against Argentina.
And, the final tears is for the USA. It was a great battle against the technically-skilled Belgians, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann has succeeded in getting the country of American football and basketball to watch ‘soccer’. Including President Barack Obama!