Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has the chance to advance his claim for Germany’s Number One shirt when he faces Bayern Munich and their veteran shot-stopper Manuel Neuer in Friday’s Champions League quarter-final.
The 34-year-old Neuer has been Germany captain since Bastian Schweinsteiger retired in 2016.
However, Ter Stegen is itching to usurp him as Germany goalkeeper, but there is not much to separate the pair.
“In several areas that characterise modern goalkeepers, I consider them to be equal,” said Bodo Illgner, Germany’s goalkeeper thirty years ago when Lothar Matthaeus lifted the World Cup at Italy 1990.
The 53-year-old says the pair are similar in their “play on the line, in one-on-ones, their charisma, and even in a penalty shoot-out”.
Illgner believes Neuer has a more commanding presence “as a boss in his own penalty area”.
After years as second choice for Germany, the 28-year-old Ter Stegen, who has made 24 international appearances, finally ran out of patience last September.
He caused a stir by saying he could not understand why Neuer, Germany’s goalkeeper since 2010, remains undisputed first-choice under head coach Joachim Loew.
Bayern’s outspoken former president Uli Hoeness waded into the ensuing debate saying that Ter Stegen had “no right” to claim the position.
Neuer, voted the world’s best goalkeeper for four years straight until 2016, is in the twilight of his career.
Now Ter Stegen has the chance to show who is the best goalkeeper on the Champions League stage.
– ‘Like comparing Messi and Ronaldo’ –
Neuer has the physical edge as he stands 1.92 metres to Ter Stegen’s 1.87m, and makes every centimetre count when he is bearing down on a striker in the penalty area.
Both ‘keepers also initiate play from their own area.
“Both are great when it comes to being an 11th outfield player. Neuer has been the absolute benchmark in this area, but Ter Stegen has become a bit better than the original,” Illgner said.
Benedikt Howedes, Neuer’s team-mate in Brazil when the Germans won the 2014 World Cup, compares the pair to two giants of the game.
“It’s like comparing (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo – they’re both great,” says Hoewedes, who recently retired.
In Saturday’s last 16 ties, Ter Stegen shaded it as he was only beaten when Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty in Barcelona’s 3-1 win.
Neuer was impressive in Bayern’s 4-1 win over Chelsea, but was beaten by a fierce shot from Tammy Abraham just before half-time.
While critics point to the mistakes Neuer has become susceptible to in recent years, when he occasionally mistimes runs from his box, his enjoys an untarnished reputation in Germany as a world-class goalkeeper.
Such is the faith shown by Bayern Munich that his contract expires in June 2023 — just after turns 37.
Ter Stegen has two years left on his contract, but Barcelona are eager to extend his deal.
Both goalkeepers face world-class finishers on Friday.
Neuer is up against both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, while Ter Stegen faces the Champions League’s top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has 13 goals in seven European matches this campaign.
Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka, who has played with both for the national team, says Germany is spoiled for choice.
“You can say they are the two best goalkeepers in the world,” Goretzka said Tuesday.
“It’s good to have ‘Manu’ at the back, he brings a sense of security, but Marc-Andre has become world-class.”