Manuel Neuer's 100: Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper makes his 100th international appearance
Bayern Munich legend Manuel Neuer became the first German goalkeeper to win 100 caps for his country in their 7-1 win over Latvia in a pre-UEFA Euro 2020 friendly. bundesliga.com reflects on how he became so influential.
Germany has always been known for its outstanding goalkeepers. Toni Turek was billed as a "football god" after playing the game of his life in the "Miracle of Bern", when West Germany upset an exceptional Hungary side to win the 1954 FIFA World Cup final.
Sepp Maier - nicknamed "the cat from Anzing" because of his sharp reflexes - was part of the great Bayern team that won three consecutive European Cup titles in the 1970s. He was also between the posts for the German side that were European champions in 1972 and World Cup winners two years later.
Former Cologne and Real Madrid netminder Bodo Illgner is remembered for denying England's Stuart Pearce in the 1990 World Cup semi-final penalty shootout before becoming the first man ever to keep a clean sheet in a World Cup final when West Germany beat Argentina 1-0.
Current Germany goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke was the hero when they won UEFA Euro 1996, while incoming Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn - nicknamed Der Titan - was inspirational when his side finished as runners-up at the 2002 World Cup. In winning the Golden Ball award - the only goalkeeper ever to claim that prize - he was officially recognised as the tournament's best player after keeping five clean sheets on the way to the decider.
Neuer, however, stands out among even that list of prominent predecessors. Arguably the best goalkeeper of all time, the Bayern and Germany captain had a very special day on 7 June 2021.
"It's unbelievable for me that I've now hit three figures," he said after Germany's final Euro 2020 warm-up match in Düsseldorf.
Watch: World No. 1: Manuel Neuer
No goalkeeper in Germany, after all, has achieved what Neuer managed. Almost exactly 12 years before the Latvia game, he had lined out for his country - and under head coach Joachim Löw - for the first time.
The 23-year-old started as Germany beat the United Arab Emirates 7-2 on 2 June 2009 as part of a post-season tour of Asia, before going on to feature later that month at the UEFA Euro U21 Championship. As part of a star-studded line-up of future World Cup winners, Neuer kept a clean sheet as Germany hammered England 4-0 in the final.
The sad passing of the hugely talented Robert Enke saw Neuer become second-choice at senior level, and when Rene Adler suffered a rib injury the Schalke shot-stopper was thrown into the spotlight at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Neuer had a great tournament as Germany reached the semi-finals, with the quality of his play with the ball at his feet marking him out from his predecessors by effectively turning him into an eleventh outfield player.
Watch: Manuel Neuer under the tactical microscope
Part of an exciting and fresh young German team, he even got an assist in the last-16 win over England - albeit from a goal kick. But there was no reason for Löw to ever consider another No. 1.
"From the first moment he was with us, I had the feeling he would go on to be one of the world's great goalkeeepers," Löw recently said of the nine-in-a-row Bundesliga champion and two-time UEFA Champions League winner.
At the 2014 World Cup Neuer distinguished himself again by taking his sweeper-keeper style up a notch against Algeria in the last 16. By covering for his defenders with sliding tackles, diving headers and pinpoint passes way out of his penalty area, he was more like a libero than a goalkeeper at times.
Aggressive, ball-playing goalkeepers like Jorge Campos (Mexico), Jose Luis Chilavert (Paraguay) and Rene Higuita (Colombia) had been seen before, but none were as complete as Neuer - or revolutionised the position as much.
Like Illgner before him, the Bayern star would go on to shut out Argentina in the final as Germany once again became world champions.
"He's my role model," Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson told Sky Germany ahead of a meeting with Neuer and Bayern in March 2019. "His style has shaped the goalkeeping game… his qualities with the ball at his feet are unrivalled. He has set new standards."
As it happens, current Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel had something similar to say after Neuer denied his PSG team in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League final. "He took the goalkeeping game to a new level - unfortunately for us," Tuchel said of his compatriot's top performance - and clean sheet - in the 1-0 win.
Ahead of his third European Championship - he was twice a semi-finalist in the past - there is no sign that Neuer is winding down. Quite the contrary, as he looks to make up for lost time after missing virtually the whole season with a foot injury ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
"At 35, Manu trains differently than when he was younger," former Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin, and Nuremberg keeper Köpke said from the German training camp ahead of Euro 2020. "Now it's more about explosiveness and movement.
"When you get to a certain age where you know your body well, then you know what you need to focus on. That allows you to continue playing at a high level. I can feel the excitement he has in every training session and every game."
Neuer got a guard of honour against Latvia after hitting a century of appearances for Germany. The reigning world goalkeeper of the year is far from done yet though.
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