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Taking Away Their Best Shots

World Cup: Germany's Kahn and U.S.'s Friedel are widely considered tournament's best goalkeepers.


SEOUL — Goalkeepers live in a world of their own, a circumscribed universe bounded by white lines and filled with long periods of calm interspersed with moments of sheer terror.

It is where most of the drama takes place on a soccer field, where flying elbows and flying feet intensify the action and where games inevitably are won or lost.

To inhabit that world takes a special kind of player, and the United States and Germany, who face each other in an intriguing quarterfinal on Friday night, have two of the best in the business.

Oliver Kahn is Germany's keeper and captain, a man generally acknowledged to be the finest in the world at his craft. Brad Friedel is the American goalkeeper who will be staring at Kahn from the opposite end of the field in Ulsan, South Korea.

Friedel has been the rock upon which the American team's World Cup challenge has been built, a last line of defense that, so far at least, has been bent but not broken. It has been Friedel's saves, as much as anything, that has gotten the U.S. to this point.

Kahn, 33, plays for Bayern Munich in Germany. Friedel, 31, plays for Blackburn Rovers in England. During this World Cup, they have been rated as the top two keepers in the tournament, although the order depends on whom is rating them.

Good as Friedel has been, and he has been excellent, he still regards Kahn as the best in the world.

"I rate him very highly," Friedel said. "He's a goalkeeper who has played at the highest level for I don't know how many years now. You don't play at those levels by being ordinary.

"He's a solid goalkeeper. He's the captain as well, so he's got to be a leader on the field. He's got to be well-respected by people who play against him and people who play with him.

"He tends not to say too many controversial things in the papers. I've seen one or two, but nothing that big. I think he's just a guy who goes out and does his job."

Friedel is a student of goalkeeping and Kahn is one he studies closely.

"You always have to learn," he said. "The day you stop learning is the day you should probably hang up the boots. If you're not willing to accept that you have things to work on, or if you want to close your eyes to other people's performance, then I think you run into problems."

Friedel, who first honed his craft at UCLA under goalkeeper coach Tim Harris, is not particular about whom he learns from, saying that he keeps track of keepers at every level.

"I watch them a lot," he said. "Sometimes you can learn as much from watching a goalkeeper in the third division as you can from watching a World Cup game. There are little things. Club football is much different from international football."

Kahn is the man American players see as the main obstacle standing between them and a place in the semifinals.

"We have great goalies, but Kahn is definitely one of the best in the world," said midfielder Earnie Stewart. "To say that he has weakness, no, no. I've looked at him in this World Cup again and he's solid. He's rock solid."

Forward Brian McBride realizes that all too well.

"He's a good goalie," McBride said. "The only way you beat a good goalie is with good shots."

The man known in Germany as "King Kahn" or "the Teutonic Titan" has unquestioned support from Rudi Voeller, Germany's coach and Kahn's former teammate on the national team.

"He is a world-class keeper and is in world-class form," Voeller said. "Because of our forward-oriented game, opponents always have the chance to occasionally sneak one or two shots in and he has to make many saves of that nature."

Kahn is renowned for his ability to maintain his nerve when going one on one with opposing forwards.

He also is superb on set pieces such as free kicks and corner kicks, with a safe pair of hands that have frequently saved his club and country from defeat.

The same can be said of Friedel.

The game very well could come down to penalty kicks and the focus then would be on the two keepers.

Friedel is unlikely to buckle under the pressure. In fact, he said it doesn't exist in that situation.

"There's no pressure on a goalkeeper on a penalty kick," he said. "We are not supposed to save it. That's why whenever you do, it's a big thing. The bigger the event, the more pressure gets heaped on the player [who is taking the kick]."

Friday's game should determine which player, Kahn or Friedel, will be the keeper of the Cup.

And possibly the winner of it, too.

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