Though Manuel Neuer was not in goal for Germany for Sunday’s quarter-final tie with Mali at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, and though the young Mannschaft could have used the Bayern Munich man’s massive presence in the shootout that decided the game, that is not to say he did not have an influence on proceedings.
That influence was revealed was revealed by a rather surprising source after the match, when FIFA.com caught up with Mali keeper Djigui Diarra, a man who had a big hand in the Africans’ hard-fought win over the Germans.
“Manuel Neuer is my role model,” exclaimed the Aiglons No1. “He’s a fantastic keeper and a big inspiration to me. I really like him, though I like my team colours and my country more.”
The great Neuer would have been pleased to turn in the kind of performance Diarra produced in Christchurch. Though he failed to get a hand on a single spot-kick in the shootout – not that he had to, with Germany’s Julian Brandt and Niklas Stark missing the target altogether with their efforts – he did make an ultimately crucial stop from the penalty spot in normal time, the turning point of the tie.
Fifty-three minutes had elapsed when Mali’s Falaye Sacko tripped Jeremy Dudziak in the box. With the Germans already 1-0 up, skipper Hany Mukhtar had the chance to put the game all but out of the African side’s reach. Firing the ball high to Diarra’s left, however, Mukhtar was aghast to see the ‘keeper guess right and push it away to safety.
“I saw him looking in that direction just before he took the penalty, and I just had to follow his eyes,” said the shotstopping hero. “I think it gave us the lift we needed. My team-mates said that save wouldn’t be in vain and they were true to their word.”