DUSSELDORF – The clock is ticking down for Manuel Neuer to return from a fractured foot, but the Germany camp is hopeful he will be ready for their World Cup defence.
Germany host Spain on Friday in Dusseldorf and Brazil in Berlin next Tuesday in high-profile friendlies, but will again be without their captain and goalkeeper.
In the 31-year-old’s absence, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Kevin Trapp of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno will be vying for Germany’s number one shirt.
Neuer has not played since fracturing his foot last September – the second time he suffered the same injury in 2017.
His club Bayern Munich have not set a date for his return, but the countdown is on before Germany announce their World Cup squad on May 15.
“There is no pressure from our side, it’s a decision for him and the doctors,” said Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff on Wednesday.
“Of course, we hope he will be 100 percent ready and fit by the time we nominate (the World Cup squad).”
Neuer has not played for Germany since October 2016, and the defending world champions are desperate for him to be ready for their opening World Cup match against Mexico in Moscow on June 17.
Neuer was voted the world’s best goalkeeper for four years running up until 2016.
His six-month absence and lack of match practice is a cause for worry in football-mad Germany.
Thomas Mueller understands the concern but is backing his Germany and Bayern teammate to get fit.
“I see ‘Manu’ a bit more than most and he always gives the impression that everything is okay,” said Mueller.
“I am not privy to what the medical situation is, but I haven’t heard anything to suggest things aren’t going to plan.
“He’ll take the necessary time, and from what I know of ‘Manu’, you can never write him off. The discussion as to whether Neuer will be fit for the World Cup is understandable, but I think he’ll manage it.”
The Spain and Brazil games are Germany’s final friendlies before the World Cup squad is picked, but warm-up matches are planned against Austria and Saudi Arabia on June 2 and 8 respectively.
Four years ago, a shoulder injury also hampered Neuer’s preparation before the last World Cup.
But Bierhoff admits the long absence this time around is new territory for Neuer. “I don’t see it as a problem, the workload on his foot will be gradually built up,” said Bierhoff.
“What is different from 2014, of course, is a lack of match practice.
“But I still think that during intense training sessions, a world-class goalkeeper comes relatively quickly back into his rhythm.”