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Germany's Jens Lehmann: Going Out a Winner?

Speculation is rife about the future of Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. At 38, he's reaching the end of his career and a win on Sunday might be the perfect going-away party.

Jens Lehmann

A Euro 2008 win could be a chance for a graceful exit for Lehmann, but nothing's certain

Jens Lehmann says he has not yet made up his mind, but coach Joachim Loew may soon do that for him.

Lehmann, who will turn 39 in November, is reaching the end of a decade-long international career which began in February 1998 but only really took off at the 2006 World Cup.

Sunday's Euro 2008 final against Spain in Vienna will be his 61st cap. It could be his last, but just don't expect Lehmann to call it quits on the night.

"I am under no pressure of time," he said, perhaps with an eye one last major tournament at the World Cup in South Africa.

However, former Germany goalkeeper Andreas Koepke, now the national team's goalkeeping coach, has said he can't imagine Germany playing with a 40-year-old in goal. Germany is also blessed with a number of talented younger goalkeepers raring to replace the veteran between the posts.

They include the uncapped 23-year-old Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen, a member of the Euro squad, Manuel Neuer of Schalke and Michael Rensing of Bayern Munich.

The young can wait

In the past, goalkeepers in Germany have had to bide their time before becoming first choice in the national team, and Lehmann may feel the youngsters will just have to wait a little bit longer.

After all, he was 28 when he made his international debut, and was a member of the Germany squad for the previous two Euros and the 1998 and 2002 World Cups without playing a single game.

Lehmann with now-retired goalie Oliver Kahn at the 2006 World Cup

Lehmann, right, with now-retired goalie Oliver Kahn at the 2006 World Cup

He appeared to be the eternal and sometimes embittered understudy, always standing in the shadow of Oliver Kahn, who himself was number two to Koepke at Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup.

Koepke, on the other hand, was behind 1990 World Cup winner Bodo Illgner in the pecking order. Illgner say in an interview with Saturday's Die Welt that Lehmann's lack of match practice on the bench last season at Arsenal is showing at Euro 2008.

"After spending the second half of the season on the bench he is lacking assurance," he said.

Lehmann had looked jittery in a friendly against Austria earlier this year and there were some critics who said he was partly to blame for Turkey's two goals in Germany's 3-2 semi-final win.

The keeper, who is now favoring a fluorescent green shirt in the hope it might distract opponents, did, however, play with command in Germany's wins over Austria and Portugal.

"The bigger the pressure the better Jens becomes," Koepke said. "I didn't see Jens as critically as others. He is playing the way we expected him to do and is also a team leader."

Rollercoaster ride

Lehmann in action during a friendly match against Austria in February

Lehmann in action during a friendly match against Austria in February

It has been very much an up-and-down career for the man who now leaves Arsenal for at least one more season at the top level with Germany's VfB Stuttgart.

Lehmann spent five seasons in London after previously playing for Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04 and, for a short time, AC Milan. His lack of match practice last season was a constant issue for Loew to address, and the keeper had considered a move back to Dortmund so as not to jeopardize his Euro 2008 chances.

However, there has been no real threat of him experiencing predecessor Kahn's fate before the 2006 World Cup when coach Juergen Klinsmann -- with the agreement of his then assistant Loew -- dropped the now retired Bayern Munich stalwart for Lehmann.

"In my career I was very fortunate. Every team I played for I made it to a European cup final," Lehmann said after Germany made sure of their place in the final.

With Arsenal he reached the final of 2006 Champions League (and was sent off against Barcelona), he won the UEFA Cup with Schalke in 1997 and made the final again with Dortmund in 2002.

He just missed out on the final of the 2006 World Cup after Germany were beaten by Italy in the semi-finals.

A winner's medal on Sunday would undoubtedly make any retirement decisions a little bit easier to take.

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