German team has always been one of the top performers in world football having bagged four FIFA World Cups and hosted 2 of them. The competition for being a part of the national squad for any player is the toughest especially for the German players. This brings into spotlight the popularly controversial contest among two of the best Goal-Keepers in German football history: Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann.
Oliver Kahn was included in the squad as Germany’s first choice keeper for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals ahead of Jens Lehmann. Jens had made his international debut in February 1998 against Oman while Kahn in September 1995 against Switzerland.
Lehmann was long intercepted from being the number one goalkeeper of the German national team due to Kahn’s presence in the competitor’s seat. He couldn’t manage to grab a single chance to play even in a single match in the 2002 World Cup despite being in the squad and being a peak performer at club level. The German team had a sweet end to the tournament in 2002 and ended up as runner-ups with Kahn’s performances ensuring he was still the undisputed number 1 in the German national team.
In FIFA World Cup 2006, although both the keepers were again selected for the Deutsch bench, again Jens Lehmann wasn’t able to garner enough chances going into the World Cup. However, an official announcement came from German national coach Jurgen Klinsmann which Lehmann would surely believe was the best for his career. On 7 April 2006, decision was out that Jens Lehmann would be Germany’s first-choice goalkeeper for the upcoming World Cup which was being hosted in Germany. Quite a surprise to a number of people given that Germany’s greatest ever Goalkeeper was still in the squad and playing.
In the opening match for Germany, although Costa Rica’s Paulo Wanchope managed to get two goals past Lehmann Germany still won the match by 4–2 scoreline. Jens Lehmann made a considerably well come-back in the subsequent two group games, without conceding even a single goal assisting Germany to sweep their group matches undefeated. Germany went on to beat Sweden in the Round of 16 to reach the Quarter-final stage where they were cast against Argentina.
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The Quarter-final match (30 June 2006, Olympiastadion, Berlin) against Argentina was the highlight of Lehmann’s international career. The match was tied at 1–1 after completion of 90 minutes and no team could score in the ET. The fate of the game was fixed to a point that the winner was to be decided through penalty kicks.
First shot was taken by Germany and it went straight into the nets. German keeper Jens Lehmann saved the first attempt taken by Argentina. Los Gauchos managed to get their second shot into the frame. But Jens Lehmann had the intention and a staunch determination to carry his team through to the Semi-Finals.
The German keeper accurately picked up the correct direction for the spot-kicks from Argentinians Roberto Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso and made crucial saves. Jens Lehmann almost made a consecutive third save. Meanwhile, the Germans scored from four spot kicks to win the penalty shoot-out 4–2. Lehmann achieved what every keeper in the world would have dreamed of doing. A day when goalkeeper becomes the hero of the nation and envy of others marking one of the best days of his life.
It was later disclosed that Lehmann’s decisions during the shootout was guided by notes from the German chief scout, Urs Siegenthaler. An idea was provided by him on a small piece of paper just before the lineup for kicks, which Lehmann kept in his right sock. Jens Lehmann looked at the paper for a long time even though Cambiasso’s name was not even on it just ahead of the shot from Cambiasso.
It fired a great controversy on the field itself and even some physical fights. A German film named as Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen based on this event was shot based on the event of the note. Jens Lehmann became the German hero after this stunning performance in the FIFA World Cup 2006 and the toast of his country.
His saves even received praise from his long-time rival and backup keeper Oliver Kahn. Lehmann announced his retirement in 2008. Throughout his career, he earned 61 caps for his country in total, 32 of which were friendlies. The count of his caps should have been much more for a goal-keeper of his calibre if not for the dominance of Oliver Kahn.
After winning the spectacular match in the Quarter-finals, Germany faced Italy in the Semi-Finals. The Italians had their chances to score but Lehmann made another set of heroic saves. With a few seconds remaining in ET, Lehmann conceded couple of goals within a minute. This ensured Italy’s place into the Final of the World Cup and the end of Germany’s road in the World cup.
However, Jens Lehmann gave the honor of starting the third place play-off match to Oliver Kahn, who was about to retire after World Cup. Kahn was made captain for that game due to an injury to Captain Michael Ballack. Germany managed to finish the tournament at third spot by defeating Portugal 3–1, thus clinching Bronze in the tournament.