Ask anyone who Germany’s best keeper is and the answer is instantaneous – Manuel Neuer. In fact, he's the sole German goalkeeper most have even heard of in recent years.
The 29-year-old is undoubtedly the world’s best and has set a ferociously high standard for other keepers to follow.
He has enjoyed a dominance in selection over other national team keepers since Rene Adler’s injury afforded him a full-time position as Joachim Low’s number one ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
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The previous Ballon d’Or candidate has plenty of years to strengthen even further and will undoubtedly remain his country’s leading stopper until well after their next World Cup campaign.
Yet perhaps ironically, given Neuer’s supremacy and outrageous talent, Germany’s goalkeeping stock beyond the iconic stopper is at an unprecedented high.
From experienced professionals turning in consistently high performances to up-and-coming talents still crafting their trade, Neuer knows there is little room for complacency each time he pulls on the national badge.
The Bayern Munich stopper has at least five solid contenders to his crown. When compared to other leading countries, it shows an incredible strength in depth – England, by contrast, have a sole challenger to Joe Hart in Stoke's Jack Butland.
And Low’s latest squad contains no less than three other goalkeepers who can viably put pressure on Neuer.
Neuer's challengers for latest round of friendlies
The most sustained challenge has come from a Manchester United cast-off in Ron-Robert Zieler.
Hannover’s Zieler is one of the busiest keepers, being the last line of the Bundesliga’s third most porous defence, yet he has still managed 48 saves in 12 appearances this season – four in every game.
His best performances have coincided with critical moments when defending 1-0 leads against Cologne and Werder Bremen, with a string of late saves in either contest rescuing valuable points for Michael Frontzeck’s men in their relegation battle.
Other competition for the friendly matches against France and Holland comes from the uncapped Kevin Trapp, now PSG’s number one - signed on a five-year deal after impressing at Frankfurt last season - alongside Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno.
Leno’s high-profile mistake against Augsburg earlier this season may have caught the eye of casual Bundesliga observers, but it has overshadowed a steady, continual progress.
Despite propping up a high-pressing Leverkusen side that inadvertently leaves fewer men back than Leno would like, a return of four clean sheets is reasonable and at just 23, he will certainly improve with more experience in Germany’s top league.
Outsiders stake claim for squad places
Neuer’s immediate competition comes in the form of those three, but the talent is certainly not limited to Low’s current selections.
Perhaps unluckiest not to receive a call was Ralf Fahrmann, who turned in a sensational second half display in the Revierderby this past weekend.
The Schalke stopper’s best performances have come in defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Gladbach, but he has finally cemented a place, taking Timo Hildebrand's spot last season after nearly being moved on in 2013.
The 27-year-old has been a relatively late bloomer but will continue to receive attention if he puts in more exceptional displays.
Timo Horn is also catching the eye at Cologne while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, once the main challenger to Neuer, has almost been forgotten while idly taking a place on Barcelona’s bench.
Half of the Bundesliga’s regular, first-choice keepers are eligible for German national duty and the rate is reflected in the amount of competition for the national spot.
That is before you consider the likes of Trapp and Ter-Stegen, plying their trade abroad.
It is no wonder, then, that German goalkeeping is stronger than it has ever been and Manuel Neuer knows several players are ready to pounce if he underperforms.
Who is Neuer's main competitor for the Germany number one shirt? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!
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