Manuel Neuer has signed a one-year extension to his deal with Bayern Munich, tying him to the Bundesliga champions until 2024.

The Germany international goalkeeper has won 10 Bundesliga titles with Bayern, as well as five DFB-Pokals and two Champions Leagues.

Neuer has made 472 appearances since signing from Schalke in 2011, and when his new deal was announced on Monday, expressed his delight at committing to another year in Bavaria.

"I'm very pleased that my journey continues at FC Bayern," he told the club's website. "We'll have a very good team again with which we can play for every title.

"As a goalkeeper, captain and leader, I want to be the support and a key factor in our big goals. We want to extend our title record and compete again for the DFB Cup and Champions League."

Of goalkeepers who played at least 20 games in the Bundesliga in the 2021-22 season, no one conceded fewer than Neuer's 26 goals (in 28 games).

Former Bayern stopper Oliver Kahn, who is now the club's chief executive, also spoke of his pleasure at the news.

"Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world and has been setting the standard around the world for years," he said. "It's a huge achievement to be so consistently world-class for such a long time.

"We're very happy to have extended his contract. Manuel is a defining figure in the history of FC Bayern."

Robert Lewandowski paid tribute to Thomas Muller for his role in a partnership that delivered the wantaway Bayern Munich striker his seventh Torjagerkanone in 2021-22.

The trophy, awarded to the Bundesliga's leading scorer, will be in Lewandowski's possession once again this season, equalling Gerd Muller's record of seven wins.

This was Lewandowski's fifth triumph in a row as he finished the campaign with 35 league goals – the last of them coming in Saturday's season-ending 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg, before which Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic confirmed his talisman had asked to leave.

Team-mate Muller set up Lewandowski's goal with a left-footed cross in what could prove to be the final link-up of a hugely effective attacking combination.

"He's amazing," Lewandowski said of Muller after the match, when he confirmed he would not be renewing a contract that expires in 2023.

"He always plays his style, his performance, his skills.

"I know him very well because we have this feeling. When he kicks the ball, I know when the ball is coming, and that's why I'm always ready to get the ball from him.

"Even today, I should be thankful not only for Thomas, but all the guys who assist me, who give me the ball to score the goals. I'm very proud of this team."

Muller has at least committed to new terms with Bayern, to the relief of captain Manuel Neuer, who addressed the media without knowing of Lewandowski's comments. 

"[Muller and Lewandowski] are absolutely world class and guarantors for our success, for the club's success over the past years," Neuer said.

"So, it is good that Thomas renewed his contract and will stay with Bayern."

Asked about Lewandowski's future, Neuer said: "Lewy just came here for an interview, I don't know what he said there but, as far as I know, he has a contract for another year."

Lewandowski will certainly be missed if he does depart, as is rumoured, for Barcelona, with Jamal Musiala just enjoying being part of a team that features two outstanding forwards.

"They're two masterminds in the game," the youngster added. "They score goals, assist, they do everything in the attack.

"It's just amazing to see, and to be part of it is just as good."

Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann says it was a "nice feeling" to lift the Meisterschale after the Bundesliga champions were held to a 2-2 draw by Stuttgart at the Allianz Arena on Sunday.

Goals from Tiago Tomas and Sasa Kalajdzic either side of strikes from Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller secured a point for the visitors, while both teams missed other gilt-edged chances to seal a win in Sunday's exciting contest.

Bayern winger Kingsley Coman was sent off in stoppage time at the end of the game for reacting to a challenge from Konstantinos Mavropanos, but it made no difference to the outcome.

The draw means that Stuttgart can still save themselves from 16th place and a relegation play-off spot in the final round of Bundesliga matches next week.

If Pellegrino Matarazzo's men can beat Cologne at Mercedes-Benz Arena, they will leapfrog Hertha Berlin should Felix Magath's side lose at Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern were presented with the Meisterschale on Sunday after winning the title at Dortmund two weeks ago, and Nagelsmann savoured celebrating winning the title for the first time.

"From a head coach's point of view, the game against Dortmund was obviously more important, but when you then hold the trophy in your hands, it's a nice feeling," Nagelsmann told reporters after the presentation. 

"For the fans it was a good game, both teams wanted to win. It was entertaining, with many chances. We did many things well with the ball. Overall, we didn't defend well in phases after losing the ball. We gave away too many chances."

 

Bayern captain Manuel Neuer says it was special to be lift the trophy in front of fans after being unable to do so last season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are happy that we can now hold the trophy in our hands, show it to our fans and celebrate with them," Neuer said. "The last times fans weren't here, so it was very important that the fans were there again. Today, unfortunately not everything worked. The result is not what we wanted."

The 3-1 defeat at Mainz last week coupled with this result meant Bayern have claimed just one point since winning the league, and have conceded five goals in those two games, the same as they shipped in the nine games prior to that.

Matarazzo was pleased with his team's performance, noting in particular their bravery as Stuttgart created 15 chances.

"There was a lot of heart in it. I am very happy with the point," he said. "We were in the game from the first minute. It was good to take the lead, then we dropped a bit too deep and too far away from the opponents.

"Against Bayern, you simply have to survive their chances sometimes. In the first half, we had chances to calm the game down. We didn't take advantage of that. We wanted to be brave and we were."

Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer are 10-in-a-row heroes for Bayern Munich, the lone mainstays of a decade of Bundesliga dominance.

Saturday's win against Borussia Dortmund means Bayern are German champions again, and veterans Muller and Neuer have been instrumental in the latest success.

Muller now has 11 Bundesliga titles in all, having also been a part of the triumphant 2009-10 team, and that stands as an all-time record.

There have been times in recent seasons when both Muller and Neuer have come under scrutiny, their places in the Bayern side being called into question.

Stats Perform has looked at how these two pivotal figures for Die Roten have bounced back in magnificent style.


The reinvention of Thomas Muller

Muller was integral to the title-clinching 3-1 win against Dortmund on Saturday, with the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner setting up Robert Lewandowski to make it 2-0 just before half-time.

Such contributions are expected of him nowadays, but the 32-year-old has reconfigured his game to reach this halcyon period in his career.

Muller went from scoring a career-high 20 Bundesliga goals in Pep Guardiola's final season at Bayern (2015-16) to just five in the following campaign under Carlo Ancelotti.

That drastic drop-off naturally caused many to wonder what was going on, even though Muller, handed his debut by Jurgen Klinsmann in 2008, had built up plenty of credit in the bank.

Muller's goal involvements (goals and assists) had dipped below 20 for the first time since 2011-12 during Ancelotti's only full season at the helm, as he added 12 assists to those five goals. Before this conspicuous 2016-17 season, Muller's goal hauls had always at least matched, but often comfortably beaten, his tally of assists.

In every season since, he has finished with more Bundesliga assists than goals.

Eight goals and 14 assists arrived in 2017-18, a campaign that saw Jupp Heynckes replace Ancelotti in early autumn, and that suggested Muller was back on track, only for another dip to follow during Niko Kovac's reign. Six goals and nine assists from Muller in 2018-19 saw him dip back under that 20 involvements mark, and as his 30th birthday approached there were concerns his best days were in the past.

How wrong Muller's critics were. As well as being a goal threat, Muller is now the most menacing creative force in German football. The departure of Kovac brought Hansi Flick to the Bayern top job in November 2019, and Muller finished that campaign with eight goals and 21 assists – the most assists in a Bundesliga season since such detailed data collection began in 2004-05.

 

He matched that career-best 29 goal involvements in 2020-21 (11 goals, 18 assists) and is well on the way to a similar haul this time (7 goals, 17 assists).

Muller has had nine seasons in which he has managed at least 20 goal involvements in the Bundesliga, not bad for a player that Ralf Rangnick almost pinched away from Bayern during Klinsmann's reign. Bayern academy boss Hermann Gerland is said to have told the club to reject the offer from Rangnick's Hoffenheim, and they owe him eternal gratitude.

Muller averaged 1.08 goal involvements per game under Flick, his best under any permanent Bayern boss, and has managed 0.89 during the first year of Julian Nagelsmann's reign, a sliver under the 0.93 he achieved in Guardiola's time at the club. He averaged a career-high 67.27 touches per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga under Flick, dipping to 64.34 under Nagelsmann.

Under Louis van Gaal, Ancelotti, Guardiola and Heynckes, he averaged in the 50s when it came to touches per 90 minutes, so his role today is more involved. Bayern can only hope it will stay that way.

When Bayern have had Muller in their starting XI since the start of the 2009-10 season, the campaign where he made his first big impact, they have won 74.7 per cent of games; without him, they have won 68.4 per cent (54 of 79). That has meant an average of 2.4 points per game when he has made the starting XI, to 2.2 when he has not started.


Neuer saves Bayern time and again

Like with Muller, there is a marginal gain to be observed from having goalkeeper Neuer in the Bayern side. Neuer joined from Schalke in 2011 and has made such an impact he is now the Bayern captain.

When he has started in the Bundesliga (307 games), Bayern have won 77.5 per cent of those games and picked up an average of 2.4 points, but when Neuer has been absent (64 games) those figures drop to a 71.9 per cent win rate and 2.3 points. The goals-against figure rises from 0.7 goals to 0.9 on average, too.

Now 36, Neuer has so far fended off a challenge from Alexander Nubel, who has been loaned out to Monaco this season to guarantee first-team action.

Nubel was also acquired from Schalke, joining Bayern in June 2020, but the 25-year-old has barely had a sniff of a first-team opportunity, and that is down to Neuer's form.

From 2012-13 to 2016-17, Neuer enjoyed five seasons where his impressive save percentage for each Bundesliga campaign fluctuated only slightly, between 78.57 per cent and 79.78 per cent per campaign.

Major doubts over his long-term future surfaced when he twice suffered broken metatarsal bones in 2017, forcing him to miss almost all the 2017-18 season.

There have been shaky times since his lay-off too, most notably when Neuer's save percentage was a distinctly low 59.65 per cent in 2018-19, the lowest mark of all Bundesliga goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances that season.

Yet a corner was soon turned, and this term the save percentage stands at 73.75 per cent, his best effort since that five-season hot streak in the mid-2010s. From seeking a succession plan, Bayern have shifted the emphasis to hoping that Neuer has years still to come at this level.

Bayern Munich are champions of Germany for a 10th successive time after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in Saturday's Klassiker to seal another Bundesliga triumph.

While the 2021-22 season has not entirely gone to plan, with Bayern falling well short in the DFB-Pokal and Champions League, they have once again dominated in the league.

Bayern's 10-in-a-row feat, with those successes coming under six different coaches, is something that has never previously been achieved in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind the Bavarian giants' latest title romp.

Ten in a row unmatched

Bayern equalled Juventus' record, set between 2012 and 2020, with nine titles in a row last season and have now overtaken the Italian giants' record for successive crowns.

Prior to this ongoing run, Bayern's longest streak of consecutive titles were the three in a row they managed on three previous occasions (1972-1974,1985-1987 and 1999-2001).

The only other team to have had such a long run of dominance in the competition was Borussia Monchengladbach from 1975 to 1977 with three titles.

 

Julian's title joy

Julian Nagelsmann masterminded Bayern's latest triumph in his first season in charge, but he fell just short of setting the record for the youngest Bundesliga title-winning coach.

Aged 34 years and 275 days on the day of the Dortmund win, Nagelsmann is 35 days older than Matthias Sammer was when Dortmund lifted the title in 2002.

Incredibly, Nagelsmann is a seasoned campaigner when compared to Lippo Hertzka, who had only just turned 28 when he won LaLiga with Real Madrid in 1931-32.

Lewy leads from the front

Robert Lewandowski has scored 33 Bundesliga goals this term, which is 12 more than next-best Patrik Schick, meaning he is now almost certain to win another Golden Boot award.

The Poland international has been at his ruthless best once again this campaign, netting every 81 minutes in the top flight.

It seems almost certain that Lewandowski will finish top of the Bundesliga scoring charts for the seventh time, and the fifth time in a row since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did so in 2016-17.

The only other player to have finished top scorer in the division as many times was Bayern great Gerd Muller, who did so between the 1966-76 and 1977-78 campaigns.

Muller the magician

Prolific striker Lewandowski is very much the poster boy of this Bayern side, but that is not to say he has done it all on his own this season.

Thomas Muller, for example, has assisted 17 goals in 30 games. That is the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues.

However, he is still short of the 21 Bundesliga assists he managed in the 2019-20 campaign, with that the most of any player since Opta began recording such data in 2004-05. He still has three games to match that total.

 

Neuer another ever-present

Muller has been a key member of Bayern's squad throughout their decade of dominance, as has goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer.

The pair will set a record for the most German top-flight titles won in a row, surpassing ex-team-mates David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez, who have all left.

Germany international Muller also lifted the title in 2010, with his overall haul of 11 seeing him surpass Alaba as the competition's outright most decorated player of all time.

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Manuel Neuer believes Germany are certainly "on the right track" as they look to prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

Germany drew 1-1 with the Netherlands on Tuesday, with Thomas Muller breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.

However, they were forced to settle for a draw after Steven Bergwijn equalised in the 68th minute.

Germany finished the game with 62 per cent possession, and forced Dutch goalkeeper Mark Flekken into four saves, two more than Neuer had to make at the other end.

Speaking to reporters, Neuer said this game was an important step on their road to the World Cup, with Germany having failed to impress at Euro 2020, while they crashed out in the group stages in Russia in 2018.

"On the way to Qatar we have to use every test and take every game seriously," he said.

"That was the first big team we played against, and that was decent for a long time.

"We have good character and are self-confident. You saw that today. If you draw a line under it, you can see that we're on the right track."

Goal-scorer Muller explained that despite being disappointed with how the game turned in the second half, this game was evidence of how Germany can impose their will on quality opposition.

"The opening goal in this atmosphere was a great moment, then we lost a bit of control – that's frustrating," he said. "But you could see that not only can we match good teams, we can dominate them."

Flick, who had won his first eight games in charge of Germany before this draw, was also complimentary of what he saw from his squad.

"There was a high intensity from both sides, we had them under pressure for 60 minutes," he said.

"I have to compliment my team, they play nice football and their style is refreshing. I'm really pleased."

Germany are next scheduled for Nations League fixtures against Italy on June 4 and England on June 7.

Hansi Flick expects a strong performance from his Germany team against the Netherlands, as he assesses his side's prospects ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Germany travel to Amsterdam to face their historic rivals in on Tuesday, following Saturday's routine 2-0 win over Israel.

The Oranje, who have won their last 11 games on Dutch soil, should represent a sturdier test, with Flick seeking to build towards a major tournament revival after Germany's failing to make the 2018 World Cup and then underwhelming at Euro 2020.

The former Bayern Munich coach is anticipating a tough contest against Louis van Gaal's side, and is expected to name a strong team after announcing that he wants to win the game "at all costs".

"It will be a good indicator for us," Flick told a pre-match press conference.

"We want to put in a good team performance, try and put our opponents under pressure, force them into mistakes and play our own game.

"I want to win the game at all costs."

Flick will be able to include goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Antonio Rudiger among his starting XI, though he was giving nothing else away.

"All of the players here are available to play," Flick added. "We're very much looking forward to testing ourselves against the Netherlands.

"Neuer and Rudiger will both start.

"Everything else we'll decide in due course, but we will have an incredibly well-prepared team out on the pitch."

Manuel Neuer does not know whether he can hang on as Germany's number one goalkeeper until Euro 2024 – but he is not ruling it out.

The Bayern Munich captain will have turned 38 by the time Germany host the European Championship in two years' time.

Laying his gloves on that trophy would mean Neuer landing one of the few honours that has eluded him in a remarkable career.

Speaking in a Germany news conference on Tuesday, Neuer was cagey about his future prospects and suggested only his form would dictate prospects of playing on for Die Mannschaft in future years.

"I don't have the target for 2024 and beyond to play in goal for the German national team," he said. "I've always said that for as long as I can help, and as long as I feel good, remain needed and have fun, I want to be involved."

Germany strode through to the World Cup with nine wins from 10 qualifiers, and Neuer is set to be their leader going into that tournament in November.

He skippers both club and national team, and will reach 110 caps for his country if he features in the friendlies against Israel and Netherlands over the coming week.

After recovering from a recent knee injury, Neuer has returned to the Bayern side who are chasing a Bundesliga and Champions League double this season.

Going away with Germany is an escape from such pressures, and a reminder of the satisfaction of playing for his country.

"I'm really happy to be here with the national team," Neuer said. "It's still a great honour for me, even if I've been here many years and played many games.

"I'm happy to be part of the squad. For as long as that remains the case, I want to keep playing. For that to happen, of course my performance has to match up."

Germany were World Cup winners in 2014 and that is the goal again this time around, with Neuer believing Hansi Flick's team can challenge.

"We will be measured by trophies," he said of this year's objectives. "That's why there's only one goal for me – to win the World Cup."

Neuer joined Bayern from Schalke in 2011 and holds the record for the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga (210), having surpassed Oliver Kahn (196) in 2021.

Neuer's contract is due to expire at the end of next season, when he will be 37, leading to speculation over his future with Julian Nagelsmann's team. He said on Tuesday there was "no news" on a fresh deal with Bayern.

Julian Nagelsmann believes Bayern Munich's 4-0 victory over Union Berlin flattered the Bundesliga leaders, claiming his side deserved to win, but not by such a large margin.

After first-half goals from Kingsley Coman and Tanguy Nianzou put Bayern in a commanding position at the Allianz Arena, Robert Lewandowski scored either side of half-time to extend their lead at the summit to seven points.

Lewandowski has now hit 30 Bundesliga goals in five separate seasons, a record which can only be matched by the legendary Gerd Muller in the competition's history.

Meanwhile, Bayern have not failed to score in any of their last 74 Bundesliga matches, but Nagelsmann said his team's performance did not warrant such a handsome margin of victory.

"I'm satisfied with the result," Nagelsmann told reporters. "You have to take it the way it is. We allowed two big chances in the first half. Manuel [Neuer] held up great.

"That's what happens when you defend so high, [but] our defenders did great, Nianzou has scored a goal. 

"In the crucial moments we had the luck that we didn't have against [Bayer] Leverkusen and Hoffenheim.

"The fourth goal decided the game. The success was deserved, but not of that magnitude."

Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi caused problems for the hosts, while Neuer was forced into one fine save by defender Robin Knoche, but Bayern's attack racked up 16 attempts at goal and created 2.54 expected goals (xG) in a rampant display.

Neuer, meanwhile, set a new record for the most Bundesliga wins recorded by a single player, overtaking fellow Bayern goalkeeping great Oliver Kahn with his 311st victory in the competition. 

Neuer also required just 460 Bundesliga appearances to reach that tally, some way short of the 557 games needed by Kahn to set the previous record of 310.

"It's a fabulous record, even compared to the games played, that's extraordinary. But I think he's far from finished with this number. I hope so!"

Julian Nagelsmann is aiming to have Manuel Neuer back in his Bayern Munich team for Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second leg against Salzburg.

Neuer has missed more than a month with a knee injury, last playing against RB Leipzig on February 5.

Since then, Bayern have kept only one clean sheet in five matches, conceding four at Bochum in the first match without their captain.

Stand-in Sven Ulreich has still been steady – saving only 61.1 per cent of shots on target faced but preventing 0.4 goals and not committing any errors leading to goals – yet Nagelsmann is keen to have Neuer available.

"If there is no reaction in his knee overnight, he will be able to play," Nagelsmann told a pre-match news conference.

"We are all very happy about that – even if Ulle [Ulreich] has done well."

If the identity of his goalkeeper is dependent on medical advice, Nagelsmann has trickier calls to make in attack, where Leroy Sane's past two appearances have come from the bench.

Sane has 13 goals and 12 assists in 34 games this season, although 12 of his goals have come in his 27 starts – and he has made every Champions League XI so far.

"He's a player I don't like to leave out because he has the quality that has already won us games," Nagelsmann said of Sane.

"I haven't decided yet what the first XI will look like. Of course, he is a candidate.

"I hope he's in the best shape if he plays from the start. He's an incredible player who can't really be defended when he plays to the limit. He has my confidence, even if he doesn't start."

Nagelsmann accepted Bayern can only have a "special season" if they continue their Champions League run beyond this tie, which is level at 1-1 ahead of the home leg.

And he will not allow his team to be complacent against Salzburg, who threatened an upset in Austria, where Kingsley Coman equalised in the 90th minute.

"Salzburg have been a good team for years – they have a very clear idea about how to win the ball," Nagelsmann added.

"It's never easy to defend that. It may not be the prettiest, but it is very dangerous.

"They have a lot of interesting individual players and have the quality to play football.

"They would also do well in the German Bundesliga because they have a lot of good players who are hungry and want to win something. They are a dangerous team who will demand everything from us."

Julian Nagelsmann confirmed that Manuel Neuer returned to full training on Friday, but a home clash with Bayer Leverkusen will come too soon for Bayern Munich's goalkeeper.

Neuer required knee surgery in February and has not featured since a 3-2 win over RB Leipzig, in which he matched Oliver Kahn's all-time record of 310 Bundesliga victories by a player. He achieved the first 77 triumphs with former club Schalke.

The Germany international – who holds the record for the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga (209), having surpassed Kahn (196) in 2021 – returned to light training late last month, but Nagelsmann confirmed the 35-year-old is now back into full team sessions.

While Neuer will be unavailable for the meeting with Leverkusen at Allianz Arena, the Bayern head coach suggested a return for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Salzburg on Tuesday could be a possibility.

"Manu did a little more today for the first time, also in team training," Nagelsmann told reporters at a pre-match news conference.

"Things are looking good. He still feels a little twinge when he has to stand up from a deep knee bend. He won't be an option for the squad tomorrow, that would be naive. 

"We'll have to see how sensible that is for Salzburg. We'll have to wait and see how he reacts. He hasn't lost any of his quality."

 

Bayern sit eight points clear at the summit of the German top flight ahead of their clash with third-placed Leverkusen, who are 14 adrift of the leaders.

Nagelsmann's team won the reverse fixture 5-1 and were 5-0 up after just 37 minutes – only in a 7-1 win at home against Hoffenheim in 2012 have they lead by five goals at an earlier point in a league match (after 35 minutes).

However, Leverkusen have taken 44 points from their 24 games in this campaign – the last time they had more at this stage was in 2012-13 (45) – and Nageslmann is expecting a stern challenge.

Indeed, both Bayern, who have managed 75 goals, a Bundesliga record for any team, and Leverkusen (63) have never before found the net as many times after 24 Bundesliga matches as they have done this season.

"A goal spectacle would be good for the spectators, but only to a limited extent for the coaches," Nagelsmann added. "Game control and the defence will be particularly important. 

"[Florian] Wirtz has the ability to move between the lines. [Jeremie] Frimpong initiates a lot, they have a very high pace and a lot of quality. We have to be prepared for that. 

"The first game [against Leverkusen] was very impressive, but we could have conceded a goal or two more.

"I don't expect them to be as offensive as they were in the first meeting and I expect them to keep pushing up but a little bit lower than they have been in recent years."

Niklas Sule, who has agreed to join Borussia Dortmund when his contract expires at the end of the season, also comes back into contention, and Nagelsmann believes the centre-back will continue giving his all for the club until he departs.

"I have a clear opinion," Nagelsmann said. "There is a certain contractual situation, the contract is limited and expires. 

"A player ideally extends, is sold or a contract expires. If the player continues who has the desire and does everything to be successful, I would always let the player play. 

"In many cases, things turn out well for the club. Sometimes things turn out differently, like with [David] Alaba [who joined Real Madrid at the end of his contract] or Sule. 

"That's part of it. You try to get the player on your side for a long time so that he gives everything for the club."

Manuel Neuer's eventual exit from Bayern Munich will be a "bigger problem" than Robert Lewandowski departing, according to former boss Felix Magath.

Neuer joined the Bavarian side from Schalke in 2011 and holds the record for the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga (209), having surpassed Oliver Kahn (196) in 2021.

The Germany international's contract is due to expire at the end of the next season, when he will be 37, leading to speculation over his future at Julian Nagelsmann's team.

The goalkeeper has been absent in recent weeks after undergoing knee surgery, coinciding with a downturn in Bayern form.

Nagelsmann's side were downed 4-2 by Bochum in their first game without their captain and were then held by Salzburg before ending a poor run of form with a 4-1 win over Greuther Furth last time out.

Neuer returned to light training on Monday and Magath, who completed consecutive doubles in charge of Bayern between in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, believes the 35-year-old is more important to the reigning Bundesliga champions than talisman Lewandowski.

"Bayern and the national team live strongly from Manuel Neuer," Magath said to German outlet Kicker, adding: "Marc-Andre ter Stegen can be very good, but he doesn't have Neuer's charisma. Manuel is a stroke of luck for German football."

When pushed for a comparison between Neuer and Lewandowski, Magath responded: "It will be a bigger problem for Bayern when Neuer is gone."

 

Neuer helped Bayern earn a 3-2 home win over RB Leipzig in his last outing, as he matched Oliver Kahn's all-time record of 310 Bundesliga wins by a player. He achieved the first 77 wins with Schalke.

Meanwhile, Lewandowski has again been in scintillating form this campaign, scoring 39 times across all competitions – 14 more than any other player across Europe's top-five leagues.

The Poland forward currently finds the net once every 71.2 minutes on average, with only Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland managing goals at a faster rate among those to have scored 15 or more in the same group.

While Neuer's return date remains unconfirmed, Lewandowski will hope to continue his prolific term as Bayern look to extend their six-point advantage at the Bundesliga summit when they face Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.

Manuel Neuer will miss at least the first leg of Bayern Munich's Champions League last-16 clash with Salzburg after undergoing knee surgery.

Bayern said their long-serving goalkeeper would be sidelined for several weeks, with the Bundesliga leaders disclosing the unexpected news on Sunday evening.

In a statement, Bayern said: "Manuel Neuer underwent successful surgery on his right knee joint on Sunday. FC Bayern will therefore have to do without their captain for the coming weeks."

Hasan Salihamidzic, the Bayern sporting director, said: "All of us in the club and the team wish Manuel a good and speedy recovery, and we're sure he'll be back to full fitness with us soon."

Sven Ulreich has been Neuer's deputy and is expected to step in while the 35-year-old regular number one rehabilitates.

Bayern are next due in action when they face Bochum in the Bundesliga next Saturday, before they travel to Salzburg for the first leg of their European tie on the following Wednesday.

The second leg of that tie is due to take place on March 8, and it remains to be seen whether Neuer will be passed fit for that game. Neuer has already indicated he is hopeful he will be available to head coach Julian Nagelsmann by then.

Neuer wrote on Instagram: "Hey guys, I had a little surgery on my knee this afternoon. Everything went fine, so I'll be able to start rehabilitation training soon. Keep your fingers crossed that I'll be back on the pitch in a couple of weeks."

On Saturday, Neuer helped Bayern earn a 3-2 home win over Leipzig, as he matched Oliver Kahn's all-time record of 310 Bundesliga wins by a player. He achieved the first 77 wins with Schalke, before joining Bayern in 2011.

Page 1 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.