Mueller shines, Neuer flops & Bayern marches on

Posted by Susie Schaaf

As expected, Germany won both of their World Cup qualifying matches against Kazakhstan, taking them eight points clear in Group C and a couple steps closer to Brazil. Mario Gomez's hamstring forced Joachim Loew in to a bit of experimentation; the trainer used Spain's "false nine" system with good results.

Thomas Mueller was the man of the match in Astana: Bastian Schweinsteiger's opener deflected off him, he set up Mario Goetze's goal in the 22nd minute, and scored one of his own in the 74th minute to complete a lovely performance by the right wing.

But in Nuernberg, for the return leg, it would be a clutch of Dortmund players providing the firepower. A white-hot ten minute spell in the first half saw Marco Reus, Goetze and Ilkay Guendogan all get on the scoresheet. And Reus completed his brace in injury time to seal another victory for the Germans that would have been most enjoyable except for... Manuel Neuer.

Just two minutes in to the second half, Neuer gifted the visitors a goal when he got caught dribbling in to a group of Kazahkstan players. Gruether Fuerth's Heinrich Schmidtgal took the ball of Neuer's foot and shot in to an open net for a small consolation.

The subsequent reaction by the home crowd was distasteful, jeering Neuer every time he touched the ball. Said Loew to ARD: "I didn't like that Neuer was whistled at after his mistake. He is up there with the best keepers in the world and made one mistake. That he was accompanied by irony for the rest of the game, I think that is unsportsmanlike."

Ever the perfectionist, Neuer apologized post-match: "You usually don't just hand out presents. But I did that today and I want to apologize for it. That was the initial spark for a bad second half of ours. I will not buy a round of beers tonight. I don't feel like it."

Why the booing? Perhaps because the match was in Nuernberg, a decidedly anti-Bayern town? But Neuer is always going to be Neuer. His dribbling out of the box is nothing new, and his aggression is one of the reasons he's thought of as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Or perhaps the mistake came from him being bored? In 25 Bundesliga apperances, he has 15 clean sheets, and only 11 goals scored against, with a paltry average of 1.04 saves per game. For Germany in six World Cup qualifying matches, he has let in seven -- a total padded by the horror show match against Sweden. In Champions League competition he has only managed one clean sheet, away at Lille.

I suppose that whatever the reason, the fans should have cut him a little slack. After all, it's not like the outcome of the match was seriously jeopardized. I am firmly in the court of "stand behind your team", and not the other way around.

It's unlikely that Neuer will recieve the same shabby treatment at the Allianz as HSV pays a call Saturday evening. And it's a tricky match for Bayern as one never knows which Hamburger club one gets. Does Munich meet the side that beat Dortmund and Stuttgart away? Or do they face the one that lost to relegation candidates Augsburg?

Besides Holger Badstuber, Jupp Heynckes' options are unlimited. Franck Ribery came back from international duty with a bruised toe, while Gomez and his hamstring have resumed practice.

You can probably bet on seeing Luis Gustavo partnering Schweinsteiger in holding midfield, as Javi Martinez is suspended for the opening leg of the Champions League of the Bayern-Juventus tie Tuesday. But the team will be fully focused on a tricky HSV Saturday.

Hamburg midfield talisman Rafael van der Vaart is fit, prompting Heynckes to tell the Bayern website: "If he's in good shape, if he dictates the pace and rhythm, HSV are a very good team."

Should Bayern manage a win, and Dortmund fail to beat Stuttgart away, Bayern Munich would be the first team in the 50 years of the Bundesliga to secure their trophy in March.

And wouldn't it be lovely to not have to out-and-out battle on three different fronts?

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