Euro 2016: Manuel Neuer vs Gianluigi Buffon - The penalty shootout and its aftermath
The quarter-final between Germany and Italy at the Euro 2016 was of no less intensity than that of a final. It had everything between losing and winning, and some more. It involved a burst of emotions, provoked thoughts and probably grasped attention from the remotest village in the world.
Those involved witnessed fear of losing or the happiness of winning against arch-rivals. Use of defense mechanisms to shield weaknesses, men thrusting forward aggressively in threatening numbers, ushering dominance by keeping the ball, an eye-to-eye formation strategy, and two teams worthy of Euro crown entangled in a game eclectic of such features.
Meanwhile, the history between these two teams also added to the scope of the result. Germany was hell bent on winning their first match against Italy in major tournaments, while Italy hoped for a hoodoo miracle in the worst case scenario. However, it all came down to a popular clash of individuals, that between two of world's best goalkeepers, which overcame the supposed premises that would decide the winner.
After the 1-1 draw, it was a dramatic penalty shootout that the Germans won to progress through to the semi-finals. Besides the relevance of the match's outcome, the penalty shootout also indicated towards the significance of a few things that could well, in hindsight, be the root of a turn of events to come.
I've also made a few observations about the penalty shootout, dramatic as it was, and how drama was consciously forced upon to ensure Germany's destiny.
Penalty Shootout: As it happened and key observations
Germany won the toss and invited Italy to take the first kick. In a tense and extended shootout, Neuer mixed his attitude with mind games that forced errors, an awareness that kept him rooted to his goalkeeping basics, and physical prowess which put the cherry on top of the execution required of his manipulative ideation.
First, he made pre-meditated one-sided bold early dives to instigate the Italian spot-kickers. That planted a thought in the opponent's minds, a thought which if held on to, becomes a weakness. Ultimately, it proved dangerous as they went on to miss two penalties and got influenced to hit two more in a way that would suit Neuer's intuition enabling him to save them with aplomb.
Buffon, on the other hand, a vastly experienced goalkeeper chose a plan of being poised and responsive rather than instigative, well aware of the hoodoo that could turn every spot kick's result or direction in his favor. Five out of eight times he judged to perfection the direction in which ball was shot.
However, his physicality turned out to be an issue as two penalties, one of which was the final nail in the coffin, were scored of despite being agonisingly within reach. He saved one and let the hoodoo work against Germany, but the Nationalmannschaft held their nerves and came out triumphant.
In retrospect of this event, the hoodoo did baffle a few German minds like Muller and Schweinsteiger into making blunders while Neuer forced errors upon Italians that he capitalised on. The match intensity affected or positively influenced both the sides and thus it wasn't as crucial a difference as the will of Neuer or the limitations of Buffon.
Game Of Thrones
Gigi is the undisputed goalkeeping great of this generation. But the old king might have just abdicated his throne to a long-standing competitor and arguably the best modern day goalkeeper. It is now clear that we have a winner, one who hasn't just won accolades for himself but also helped his team overcome a gargantuan task and ending ages of nemesis.
Neuer is more than just a perfect goalkeeper, he adds features of a sweeper, last defender, and long passer also. Besides, he creates some key chances as well, which was evident in the open play goal scored by Germany.
The Italian Aftermath?
As conjectured earlier, Germany's gain could prove to be Italy's loss. Buffon is showing signs of aging and although Italy can count on him for the present, the idea of his absence is a cause of concern for the Azzurri. Salvatore Sirigu is no longer the first-choice goalkeeper for PSG yet was the second-choice for Antonio Conte.
Should this reality be believed, it indicates a higher concern. Elsewhere, Mattia Perin is highly regarded and Marco Sportiello is in the form of his life but both lack experience. Federico Marchetti himself is 31 and Gianluigi Donnarumma's name is still to be circulated.