Against Costa Rica, Manuel Neuer became the sole record goalkeeper at the World Cup. A milestone in the great and successful career of the Munich. He doesn't want to experience an embarrassing end to the tournament like his predecessor Sepp Maier once did.
For Hansi Flick, any criticism of Manuel Neuer sounds like blasphemy. When Germany's number one becomes the sole record goalkeeper in front of Sepp Maier and Brazil's Claudio Taffarel this Thursday in the crucial group game of the national soccer team against Costa Rica with his 19th World Cup appearance, there is no reason for the national coach to have any doubts. "He took goalkeeping to another level, so for me he's still number one in the world." This Flick sentence, uttered before the tournament, is like a statement of principle about the small question marks that accompany Neuer in his fourth World Cup.
Mistakes when playing with the ball, which he revolutionized for goalkeepers, safety, nonchalance and precision? Did the various injuries from the metatarsus before the 2018 World Cup to the acromion leave their mark in the fall? Does model athlete Neuer at the age of 36 also have to pay tribute to the wear and tear of thousands of training sessions, countless parades and the constant pressure in the limelight? For the World Cup competition, these questions seem strange. Each of the 32 tournament coaches would be happy to have Manuel Neuer in the squad. "Manuel," Flick is certain, "is still number one in the world." But even a top goalkeeper is not infallible.
His endless good goalkeeper deeds are becoming a curse for Neuer. Two actions in the short goalkeeper's corner are suddenly compared: the hand is stretched upwards at lightning speed against the power shot by France's Karim Benzema in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals. A monster parade that paved the way to World Cup victory. And this time, eight years later in Qatar: When Japan's Takuma Asano shot, his shoulder turned away, his head slightly ducked. left the gap. The 1: 2 to opening bankruptcy against Japan. An unfair comparison for Flick: "We have to prevent the goals conceded in a different way."
On the media boulevard, former goalkeeper greats from Bodo Illgner to Jens Lehmann are tried to evaluate Neuer's current achievements. There is no open criticism of the Bayern goalkeeper (yet). New remains the ultimate for everyone. The Zulal Wellness Resort, as a DFB refuge, hasn't changed Neuer's status as a leading player. Youngsters like Jamal Musiala or Karim Adeyemi look up to him and talk about their admiration.
The DFB press conference with World Cup teenager Youssoufa Moukoko turned into a charming talk of generations. Neuer was relaxed as seldom in such performances. The goalkeeping hierarchy is indisputable anyway. Marc-André ter Stegen (30 years old/30 internationals) has settled into his DFB role as number two. Inspired by his top performances for Eintracht Frankfurt, Kevin Trapp (33/6) is a satisfied number three. There is currently no goalkeeper under the age of 30 in the country who has ever played an international match. This is also an expression of Neuer's goalkeeping hegemony since the 2010 World Cup.
Neuer is a pro through and through. He challenges himself in all areas to keep his top level. A few years ago he started eating healthier. He bakes his own gluten-free bread, avoids red meat and cow's milk products. That made him more efficient, he says. On the other hand, Neuer was never a speaker, but his word carries weight in the club and in the national team. With his calm and serenity, he makes those around him feel good. As a child, he didn't want to go into the box. "The stupid has to go in goal," was the motto on the soccer field, Neuer revealed in the "Spiegel" interview: "But it wasn't that stupid for me." As a youth goalkeeper at Schalke 04, it was good for him that the back pass was banned and his area of responsibility was revolutionized.
Neuer has conceded 14 goals in his 18 World Cup games so far. He has a similarly dazzling quota with 111 goals conceded in all of his 116 international matches. He kept 47 clean sheets for Germany. Against Costa Rica there should finally be a zero again in a World Cup game. The last time he didn't concede was in the triumphant final of 2014, beating Argentina 1-0 after extra time in the Maracanã.
At Al-Khor's Al-Bait Stadium, Neuer is unlikely to be the center of attention in his record game against the big underdog. "We have to focus on our game, do our homework, do our duty," demanded the DFB captain. Nothing has changed in his ambition since that legendary video from Westerholt, when Neuer wept for a goal as a five-year-old with a giant teddy bear under his arm.
Newcomers like Thomas Müller (33 years / 18 World Cup games), as the second tournament veteran in Qatar, may have been thinking about the fact that their personal World Cup history shouldn't come to an ugly end. Sepp Maier, whom he replaces as record goalkeeper, played his 18th and last World Cup game in 1978 in a 2-3 win against Austria, the shame of Córdoba. Neuer must avoid a disgrace from Al-Khour.