Saturday was the moment of truth for FC Bayern München's new first-choice goalkeeper Thomas Kraft – and things went almost perfectly.
At Bayern's recent training camp in Dubai, Louis van Gaal had informed the 22-year-old – impressive in the UEFA Champions League against AS Roma in November – that he would replace Hans-Jörg Butt as the club's No1. The coach confirmed that decision to the media on Wednesday and Kraft duly started the Bundesliga fixture at VfL Wolfsburg, setting up Bayern's opener with a long goal kick and brilliantly stopping Grafite's penalty only to be beaten by Sascha Riether late in a 1-1 draw.
"Of course I am happy about making my Bundesliga debut, but the anger about the equaliser is still there," Kraft said. "I am not a penalty stopper, although last year with Bayern reserves I did manage to save one."
The weekend draw may have left fifth-placed Bayern 16 points adrift of leaders Borussia Dortmund, yet Van Gaal had praise for his goalkeeper. "He played well, but we must not direct too much attention to one player," the coach said. "The first match is always the easiest."
Kraft is following in the footsteps of Sepp Maier and Oliver Kahn at a young age, though his route to the top has taken much hard work already. His determination was evident earlier this term when he said: "I am not playing football to be a No2 or No3 goalkeeper somewhere. Nor do I want to play out time in the third or second division. I want to prove myself."
Van Gaal rewarded Kraft with two UEFA Champions League outings, and the custodian responded with a clean sheet in December's 3-0 defeat of FC Basel 1893 which followed his succession of saves in the 3-2 loss at Roma. Although Bayern's management had been reportedly interested in FC Schalke 04's German international Manuel Neuer, they have now publically backed the coach's move to promote Kraft.
"The lineup is exclusively the decision of the coach," chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. "That has been written into every coach's contract since we won promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965."
Perhaps the board were thinking of Van Gaal's resolution last season to turn to Holger Badstuber and Thomas Müller, two relatively obscure names now integral to both Bayern and Germany's squads. Kraft actually has plenty in common with Müller – both married young and settled into family life rather than exploring Munich's nightspots.
His coach has no doubts in his ability. "Kraft has improved in many areas in recent months and I believe that by playing him we will get further development," Van Gaal said before the Wolfsburg game. "I have great trust in Kraft being able to cope with the pressure."
There is one other person hoping Kraft is up to the task – with Schalke coach Felix Magath keen that Bayern do not pursue an interest in Neuer. "Then we will all be happy," said Magath. He will have had a hand in Kraft's success himself, having promoted the then 18-year-old from Bayern's reserves during his own spell in Munich.
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