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Quarterfinal lies in keepers' hands

USA's Brad Friedel and Germany's Oliver Kahn are among the best in the world.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002


SEOUL, South Korea -- Goalkeepers live in a world of their own, a circumscribed universe bounded by white lines and filled with long periods of calm interspersed with moments of sheer terror.

It is where most of the drama takes place on a soccer field, where flying elbows and flying feet intensify the action and games are won and lost.

To inhabit that world takes a special kind of player, and the United States and Germany, who face each other in a quarterfinal today, have two of the best.

Oliver Kahn is Germany's captain and generally acknowledged to be the finest keeper in the world. Brad Friedel will oppose him in Ulsan, South Korea.

Friedel has been the rock upon which the Americans' run has been built, a last line of defense that, so far at least, has bent but not broke. It has been Friedel's saves, as much as anything, that have gotten the United States to this point.

Kahn, 33, plays for Bayern Munich in Germany. Friedel, 31, plays for the Blackburn Rovers in England. During this World Cup, they have been rated as the top two keepers in the tournament, although the order depends on who is rating them.

As good as Friedel has been, he still regards Kahn, who has allowed one goal in four games, as the best in the world.

"He's a goalkeeper who has played at the highest level for I don't know how many years now," he said. "You don't play at those levels by being ordinary.

"He's the captain as well, so he's got to be a leader on the field. He's got to be well-respected by people who play against him and people who play with him. He tends not to say too many controversial things in the papers. I think he's just a guy who goes out and does his job."

Friedel is a student of goalkeeping, and he studies Kahn closely.

"You always have to learn," he said. "The day you stop learning is the day you should probably hang up the boots. If you're not willing to accept that you have things to work on, or if you want to close your eyes to other people's performance, then I think you run into problems."

Friedel, who first honed his craft at UCLA, is not particular about whom he learns from, saying he keeps track of keepers at every level.

"I watch them a lot," he said. "Sometimes, you can learn as much from watching a goalkeeper in the third division as you can from watching a World Cup game. There are little things. Club football is much different from international football."

Kahn is the man American players see as the main obstacle standing between them and a place in the semifinals.

"We have great goalies, but Kahn is definitely one of the best in the world," midfielder Earnie Stewart said. "To say that he has weakness, no, no. I've looked at him in this World Cup again, and he's solid. He's rock solid."

The man known in Germany as "King Kahn" and the "Teutonic Titan" has unquestioned support from Rudi Voeller, Germany's coach and Kahn's former teammate on the national team.

"He is a world-class keeper and is in world-class form," Voeller said. "Because of our forward-oriented game, opponents always have the chance to occasionally sneak one or two shots in, and he has to make many saves of that nature."

Kahn is renowned for his ability to maintain his nerve when going one-on-one with forwards. He also is superb on set pieces such as free kicks and corner kicks, with hands that frequently have saved his club and country.

The same can be said of Friedel.

The game very well could come down to penalty kicks, and the focus would be on the keepers.

Friedel, who has allowed six goals in four games, is unlikely to buckle under the pressure. In fact, he said it doesn't exist in that situation.

"There's no pressure on a goalkeeper on a penalty kick," he said. "We are not supposed to save it. That's why whenever you do, it's a big thing. The bigger the event, the more pressure gets heaped on the (shooter)."

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