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Between 1998 and 2008 Jens Lehmann earned a total of 61 caps for Germany, but one match in particular stands out above all others. At the quarter-final stage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil, Lehmann became a national hero as Germany beat Argentina 4-2 on penalties after the game had finished 1-1.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper spoke to FIFA.com about his thoughts on that match, why he is especially pleased with the success of Germany’s current No1, Manuel Neuer, and why he believes his countrymen are clear favourites going into Sunday's FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil.
FIFA.com: What have your impressions been of the World Cup in Brazil?
Jens Lehmann: The impression I’ve had watching from Germany has been confirmed by phone calls I’ve had with people who are at the tournament: it’s one of the best World Cup’s there’s ever been. The locals are said to be very helpful and hospitable and I’m told the atmosphere both in and outside the stadiums is fantastic.
And in terms of the football being played?
There have been a lot of exciting games and that’s made it a good World Cup. That said, the difference between club football and international football has been clear to see again. Coaches get to prepare their team for the World Cup for a few weeks, but at club level the sides work together over the whole year. That’s why the standard of football being played is slightly lower, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing for the fans.
With that in mind, do you think it was wise of Germany coach Joachim Low to build his team around a core Bayern Munich contingent who are used to playing together?
Definitely. The Bayern players know exactly how their club-mates play out on the pitch and that makes things a lot easier, even for non-Bayern players like Sami Khedira. That’s a huge advantage for us. In recent tournaments Spain relied on a group of Barcelona players, with the club providing seven members [including David Villa] of the starting line-up in the 2010 Final.
What have you made of Germany’s performances in Brazil so far?
They’ve been very good. We’ve got the best team at this World Cup: we’re organised, compact and fantastic on the ball. You can tell that a lot of our boys, including some of the ones on the bench, are used to playing in the latter stages of the Champions League.
What are your thoughts on your successor in Germany’s goal, Manuel Neuer?
He’s had a perfect World Cup so far. He’s without doubt the best goalkeeper there is at the moment, and I’m especially pleased about one thing he does. Back when I was a player I think I was one of the first keepers to play in the style he’s been so successful with today. A lot of people called me crazy when I did it, which makes it all the nicer to see that I was actually on the right track.
Have you been able to make sense of what happened in the semi-final against Brazil?This might sound harsh but at the moment Brazil just aren’t good enough to reach the Final. The way Germany’s first goal was scored says it all really; a high ball came in from a corner and Thomas Muller was free to volley it in from knee-height. The subsequent goals came about because Brazil had a collective blackout and their heads weren’t in the right place. However, the main thing was the difference in quality between the teams. Even if Neymar and Thiago Silva had been playing it would only have reduced that gap a little bit.
Germany now face Argentina in the Final. What memories do you have of playing against the South Americans?
The first thing that springs to mind is of course the quarter-final at the 2006 World Cup. Before that game everyone demanded that we beat them because we hadn’t defeated a big team for a few years. Fortunately we managed to do that via spot kicks.
And after saving two penalties in that shoot-out you were the hero of the side. How many times have you been asked about that encounter since?
(Laughs) I’ve stopped counting. Sometimes I have the impression there are people who believe that was the only match I ever played. I knew back then that we had good penalty takers and I had the feeling that I would save at least two. Luckily enough, that turned out to be the case.
How would you assess the Argentinian team?
They’re a compact unit and are very strong at the back. It’s no coincidence that they’ve only conceded three goals throughout the whole tournament. They’ve also got fantastic players up front too, with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Will that be enough for them to be able to beat Germany?
I don’t think so. Germany have got greater strength in depth and we’ve got more players who play at the highest level every year. You only need to look at the kind of big international games the Bayern players have been involved in over the last few years. That makes a huge difference because you gain a lot of experience from those sorts of encounters.
But Argentina have four-time FIFA World Player of the Year Messi in their ranks...
...and he’s more than capable of deciding matches on his own, but on Sunday I don’t think he’ll have it any easier than he did in the semi-final against the Netherlands - if anything it’ll be harder for him. Messi is outstanding but Germany have got a more complete attack and they’ll break down the Argentinian defence, although they might have to be patient.
So you think Germany will win the World Cup again for the first time in 24 years?
Yes, I’m sure of it, and at the moment I’m frantically searching for a flight to Brazil because I’d love to be there.