Outside the Olympia in Helsingborg stands a statue of local Helsingborgs IF legend Karl Svensson, whose goalkeeping heroics at the 1950 FIFA World Cup were instrumental in Sweden finishing third.
World Cup hero
Svensson shone in victories over Italy and Spain to help Sweden collect the bronze medal, and although both games were played at the Estádio do Pacaembu in Sao Paulo, the No1 was rechristened 'Rio Kalle' by his adoring Swedish fans. Rio Kalle – Kalle is the Swedish nickname for Karl – had previously won gold with Sweden at the 1948 London Olympics and played his last international match in the loss to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup final.
It was fitting, then, that at a ground where a keeper is king, fellow fraternity member Manuel Neuer should prove key to securing Germany a place in the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship final. Svensson was a fireman by trade and putting out danger was Neuer's assignment on Friday when he repelled chance after Italian chance. The FC Schalke 04 man held a running duel with Marco Motta in the opening stages, expertly turning one header on to the bar then blocking another from the Italy captain on the line as the Azzurrini rained down efforts on Germany's goal. Though not always orthodox – his hoofed clearance from Mario Balotelli's last-minute free-kick was something to behold – the outcome was always the same. Neuer made eleven saves in earning his third clean sheet of the tournament to send Germany to the final.
"It was a strange save," Neuer told uefa.com as he reflected on Balotelli's late strike. "I didn't know how to stop the ball, because it was a very hard and dangerous shot. I didn't know whether I should block it or deflect it with my hand. [To kick it] was an instinctive reflex and thankfully it worked." Everything Neuer has put hand or boot to has gone well in recent weeks. The 23-year-old made his senior national-team debut at the start of June and has further staked his claim for a place in Joachim Löw's side with a string of excellent displays here, eliciting the praise of U21 coach Horst Hrubesch. "He's among the best in Europe and I'm sure he'll take the next step and become world class," said Hrubesch. "He makes it possible for me to sit calmly on the bench and that feeling is transferred to the players. Even if the ball gets deflected, he's always there."
Neuer, who has made 88 Bundesliga appearances for home-town club Schalke, added: "In the first half we had a lot of problems in defence. We had a chat at half-time and knew we had to react, and in the second half we proved we can play good football. We had problems getting into the game and they could have scored, but fortunately we kept them out. In the end, we deserved to go through." The only goal Neuer has conceded in Sweden came against England, whom he meets again in Monday's final. "It will be a completely new match," he went on. "They will have a new starting eleven compared with the group match so it will be like playing against a new team. We're really looking forward to it."
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.