Might Algeria have beaten Germany without Manuel Neuer between the posts? Certainly the Germans might have conceded an early goal to Islam Slimani, without Neuer shadowing the attacker outside of the area and stopping him with a sliding tackle out of the coach's handbook. No wonder the German play-by-play commentator said during the tough Algerian test: "the sweeper is celebrating his rebirth in German football, and his name is Manuel Neuer."
Always eager to bound off his line to clear up passes over the top, even for the high-defending Bayern Munich at club level, Neuer said ahead of the competition that he did not intend to change his style for the World Cup. He played the same high-risk game, without conceding the soft goal or red card that charging off the line can often invite. Neuer even had a frightening moment in the final, as he and Gonzalo Higuain collided chasing a loose ball - but Neuer had punched the ball clear before the impact, in keeping with his strong tournament.
"I don't know how late we will be celebrating, but we will still be waking up with a grin," Neuer joked after the final, also sparing a thought for players who missed the main event. "We've all worked together so well ever since our preparations, when we suffered some setbacks and lost players like the Benders [brothers Sven and Lars] and Marco Reus. But they're world champions too. All Germans are world champions."
For all the focus on Neuer's forays outfield, the Schalke youth product stood tall on his line for Germany too. His last-minute save to deny Benzema was as authoritative as it was nonchalant, Neuer flung a single fist up to meet the ball and punch it clear. His diving save to deny Mathieu Valbuena (pictured at top of story) came at a less decisive moment, but was arguably Neuer's best save of the night.
Against Brazil, Neuer's night was almost as dull as Jasper Cillessen's in the third-place playoff, yet still he was visibly furious with his defenders for allowing Oscar through for a stoppage-time consolation goal. Briefly, the 28-year-old looked ready to disown substitute defender Per Mertesaker; 7-1 or not, Neuer had lost his clean sheet. This mentality helps explain why Bayern Munich were so determined to bring in the German keeper, and why Schalke's hunt for a first-team goalie still seems unfinished, three years on.
The 2014 World Cup provided so many splendid candidates for the Golden Gloves: from "future US Secretary of Defense" Tim Howard, to Mexico's flying free agent Guillermo Ochoa, or Costa Rica's last line of defense Keylor Navas. Super-sub Tim Krul made a name for himself in a penalty shootout, while Argentina's Sergio Romero stopped Netherlands from the spot. But Neuer, without ever having to face a penalty or a shootout with Germany, outshone this glittering group. In 420 minutes of knockout-stage football, the German keeper conceded just two.