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|Euro 2012 Special: Manuel Neuer vs Gianluigi Buffon - Who's better in between the sticks?|
SoccerAnchor will be analysisng both Germany and Italy in detail, and Alex Pavlidis takes a look at the goalkeepers...
“Ciao Manuel, you are the best keeper in the world, I hope that both of us are in the Euro final.”
This is what Gianluigi Buffon told Manuel Neuer on Sky Sports News in late 2011 and lo and behold, the two foes will face each other in the semi finals of Euro 2012, albeit, one game away from Buffon’s prediction.
The two goalkeepers have had stellar seasons at home with the Bayern Munich star reaching his first Champions League final and the Juventus stalwart going throughout the season unbeaten. Domestically, Neuer has conceded 50 goals and kept 29 clean seats while Buffon has let in 21 goals and had not conceded in 24 games.
Both number ones have a brilliant defensive combination in front of them and in the tournament thus far, Germany have conceded four goals, two surprisingly against Greece and the Italians letting past one respectively against Spain and Croatia.
Although the goalkeepers are undoubtedly the best in their own nations and in the top 5 in the world (joined by Casillas, Hart and Cech), what separates the two is the new school/old school styles of each keeper and the eight year age gap between the pair.
At the ripe old age of 34 years-young, Buffon has seen it all in between the sticks for the Azzurri and The Old Lady. Many have jokingly laid pot shots towards the evergreen goalkeeper’s age however the longevity of goalkeepers should mean that Buffon could even play at Euro 2016, with the oldest player at Euro 2012 being fellow custodian, Greek Kostas Chalkias.
Little know that Buffon is not the oldest player in the Italian team but in fact Antonio Di Natale and Morgan De Sanctis are older, again reaffirming that Gigi is still in his prime.
What sets Buffon away from most of the goalkeeping fraternity is his ability to avoid the shockers. As recently as May this year, Buffon did have a mishap against Lecce, which saw Juventus draw 1-1 but before that, many couldn’t recall a time where they found themselves saying, “he could have got to that.”
This has come to Buffon with years of experience at the top level which may play a part come Thursday.
Both of the goals Buffon has conceded this tournament have been from close range and a result of poor Italian marking. Buffon found himself one on one with Fabregas and Mandzukic respectively and there was little the custodian could do on both occasions.
Buffon’s save of the tournament was unquestionably the bear claw against Glenn Johnson in the quarter-final. Gigi, showing that the old dog did have new tricks, instinctively palmed Johnson’s shovel shot from six yards, which settled the tit for tat battle in the opening five minutes.
This save showed a lot more about Buffon’s ability than previously thought. His reflexes are sharp, his hands are fast and Gigi has become a wine that gets better with age. The Italians have offered an above par defensive performance but from the teams of the past, there is a more aggressive attitude to go forward. Buffon’s adaptability to not only a progressive style, but to new techniques in goalkeeping has allowed him to stay at his peak for so long.
Experience is one of the most valuable assets to a goalkeeper and this will prove vital if the Italians are any chance to progress to the final.
INeuer has been touted by not only Buffon, but also a large chunk of the goalkeeping fraternity as the modern era’s best goalkeeper, but the 26 year-old still has to prove himself on the biggest stage.
Making the move to Bayern last season, Neuer, like any new and young goalkeeper had his fair share of teething problems in inheriting the number one shirt from Hans-Jorg Butt. It was made clear that Neuer was not going to be accepted immediately by the Munich faithful and the goalkeeper showed maturity and a level head beyond his age to lead the Barvarians to the Champions League final and second place in the Bundesliga.
Neuer’s build and athleticism is unrivalled in the world goalkeeping steaks and standing at 6’4” (1.93cm) the former Schalke junior moves like a player who 5’9” with lightening speed and leaps like a man who is 6’7”.
The Bayern star’s spread almost shows disregard for his safety, throwing himself at one on ones and taking away any time and angle an attacker has when he is rarely past the German defence. Sides are forced to play their way towards the German box, with Neuer seen time and time again heading outside his area or cutting off balls over his defensive line.
All of Germany’s goals against at Euro 2012 have come when they have been leading. The Germans defence, especially Neuer, may have to rid the sense of complacency before the important stages of the tournament. Draws from being 1-0 up can be debilitating for teams, considering the lottery of penalties looms for the foes.
Neuer’s tournament thus far has not been the most convincing even though the Germans have been incredibly strong in the group and quarter-final stages. With the pressure set upon him by the world, and more importantly, the man who will line up opposite him on Thursday night, Neuer can almost metaphorically receive the mantle from Buffon as the world’s best goalkeeper with a solid performance in the semi-finals.
It’s expected that Buffon will be the busier of the two goalkeepers on the night however the vulnerability of conceding in a game a team has dominated is always a chance. Buffon’s big game experience will play a part, wasting time and controlling tempo when needed. Neuer will need to be on his game from start to finish with the threat of Balotelli imminent and the Italians likely to perform a smash and grab against the highly rated Germans.
If the game comes down to penalties, Buffon is the likelier of the two to come out on top. Not only has Buffon experienced the ultimate lottery this tournament and in 2006, but has saved three penalties in regular play this season compared to Neuer’s zero. Along with this, Neuer’s heartbreak in the Champions League final may creep into the mindset of the 26 year-old, which may play a part. In saying that, teams perform extensive homework on penalty takers and a slip on the penalty spot may mean the keepers may not decide the outcome.