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Cool Van der Sar savours final straight

Edwin van der Sar aims to thwart an old adversary in Raúl González on Tuesday as Manchester United FC's phlegmatic Dutch keeper bids to write a glorious final chapter of his sporting life.

Edwin van der Sar in training in Gelsenkirchen
Edwin van der Sar in training in Gelsenkirchen ©Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson jokingly replied "I don't know" in his best German when asked by a local journalist about his reported interest in signing FC Schalke 04 goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, yet behind the smiles lay a more serious question: namely, how the Scot will replace Edwin van der Sar this summer?

Manchester United FC's UEFA Champions League challenge this term has been founded on a strong defence with the Premier League leaders yet to concede on their travels and Van der Sar, as assured as ever at the age of 40, has been key to that effort.

The Dutch keeper, who will retire at the season's end, belied his years once more on Saturday during United's 1-0 home win against Everton FC, pulling off a fingertip save to deny visiting midfielder Jack Rodwell with the game goalless. That stop helped United secure a success that leaves them on the cusp of another domestic title, one that would mean Van der Sar bowing out with a fourth Premier League winner's medal to add to the same number won with AFC Ajax.

And he might yet end his final season in the UEFA Champions League as he did his first in the competition back in 1994/95 – by holding the club game's most cherished trophy aloft. It is an enticing prospect for Van der Sar but, ahead of his seventh UEFA Champions League semi-final, he showed a down-to-earth attitude befitting a native of the Low Countries as he reflected on the final straight of his long sporting journey.

Playing down the suggestion he might be tempted to reconsider his decision to retire, he said: "I don't know, I am just enjoying it. It is always nice when you are involved in a winning team, and that's what we've done a lot lately. Hopefully we can keep on doing that these last couple of game we have to play this season. I've had a reasonable career so far and let's hope we can finish if off nicely."

Saying Van der Sar, United's 2008 final shoot-out hero, has had a "reasonable career" is like suggesting Raúl González is a half-decent striker and the meeting of these two golden oldies – greats of the modern UEFA Champions League era – could provide an intriguing subplot to tomorrow's action.

Raúl González has scored 71 UEFA Champions League goals, but he has never put the ball past Van der Sar in the competition. The pair met back in autumn 1995 when the keeper kept a pair of clean sheets for Ajax in two group stage victories against the Real Madrid CF of an 18-year-old Raúl.

Sixteen years on, the pair will face off again and Van der Sar hailed his contemporary when he warned United's defenders would have to be at their vigilant best to contain the threat of the 33-year-old, whose five goals have helped propel Schalke to their first semi-final.

"What I think about Raúl is he's quite an amazing player of course," said Van der Sar, who has 53 UEFA Champions League shut-outs to his name. "He played so many years at Real Madrid at a high level and he scored all those goals in the league for them and of course is the top scorer in the Champions League. He is not someone you can take your eye off because he is so dangerous and only needs a little chance to score a goal, our defence will have to be on their toes when they play against him."


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