Zieler’s goal

He just wasn’t quite sure what had hit him. Ron-Robert Zieler experienced a turbulent evening in the new Olympic Stadium in Kiev, and it was one he won’t forget. Hanover 96’s goalkeeper, who made his senior international debut in Germany’s 3-3 (1-3) draw with Ukraine, went through all sorts of high and lows. “He didn’t have to save a thing in the first half but conceded three goals and was extremely disappointed at half time,” said head coach Joachim Löw when looking back on the 22-year-old’s first game in the national team. “In the second half he prevented two goals. He had a great game and I was very pleased with his performance,” added Löw.

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Ron-Robert Zieler, 22, goalkeeper at Hannover 96, gave his debut for the German national team in the 3-3 draw against Ukraine in Kiev on 11 November 2011. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

After enjoying a phenomenal rise to the top in Germany, the newcomer between the posts was forced to pick the ball out of the back of the net three times in 17 minutes. But then he proceeded to become one of the few winners in the third placed team at the 2010 World Cup which came back to snatch a draw in the second half. Zieler still hadn’t fully realised what had happened to him when leaving the stadium. “The first half went really badly for me. Conceding three goals isn’t exactly nice,” said the goalkeeper. Germany’s last keeper to let in three goals in one half was Jens Lehmann in the 4-1 disaster against Italy in Florence on 1 March 2006. Zieler feared at half time that his career in the national team was going to be over before it had really begun. However, he was allowed to continue in goal and Bremen’s Tim Wiese remained on the bench for the full 90 minutes.

“Things were much better after half time. In spite of letting in three goals, I immensely enjoyed the experience. Especially in the second half,” said Zieler. In the 50th, minute he pulled off a fantastic save to deny Andrej Schewtschenko from making it 4-1. And in stoppage time he rescued the German team by making a great stop with his feet to keep the scores level. Born in Cologne, it has only taken him 25 Bundesliga games to reach his first intermediate summit on his road to the very top. On 11.11.11, a highly important date in the city of his birth as it’s the start of the carnival season, he became the 50th player to make his debut in the national team during Löw’s era in charge.

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Ron-Robert Zieler rescued Germany from defeat in added time by saving with his feet against the Ukrainian Marko Dević (right/No. 22) (Photo: GES/Augenklick)


He wasn’t able to celebrate the carnival at home. Though the keeper likes the city’s traditional music, he gives one the impression that he has not taken on the perpetually jovial character so typical of people from Cologne. He seems to be more like the reserved north Germans. That he had a job to do in Kiev at the same time as the carnival was “kicking off” didn’t bother him one little bit. “It was an honour for me,” he said. Two years after Robert Enke took his life under such tragic circumstances, Hannover 96 once again had a German international. Zieler’s chances of being in the squad for the UEFA European Championships 2012 are therefore looking very good.

Cologne, Manchester, Hanover, Kiev

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He trained for several years with superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s Portuguese striker, at Manchester United. “Ron is a great lad. Perhaps he’ll come back to us one day,” said Alex Ferguson, the manager of the English club where Zieler was an apprentice. As a youngster, Zieler played for 1 FC Cologne when still only six-years-old. Aged 16, he ventured out into the world and moved to ManU’s youth team. Ahead of him in the pecking order at the club were experienced goalkeepers like the Dutchman Edwin van der Sar. “The time I spent there was a hugely valuable experience. Working with world class players and an outstanding manager like Sir Alex Ferguson was fantastic for my development both as a player and as a person,” explained Zieler when looking back on his time in Manchester. He played in the reserve team and was also loaned out for a while to Division One club Northampton Town.

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At Hannover 96, Ron-Robert Zieler, who used to be on Manchester United’s books, has become the regular keeper after a string of top performances. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

He only returned to Germany in summer 2010. At Hanover he was given the nod by coach Mirko Slomka. Zieler replaced Florian Fromlowitz as the number 1 after the 2010/11 season’s winter break. He had achieved his goal of becoming a regular goalkeeper in professional football in January 2011. Ten months later he was standing between the posts for Germany. “He belongs to the new goalkeeping generation. With his modern way of playing he fits in well in our set-up,” said Löw. There is no dearth of world class players vying for the No. 1 shirt. The Hanoverian has leapfrogged Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller. Whether Leverkusen’s Rene Adler will return after a long injury is uncertain. In Kiev Zieler was preferred to the ambitious Wiese.

No end of hard work 

Between the cool Hanoverian and the Bremen stopper are a number of similarities. Both come from Rhineland. Wiese, who started his career at Bayer Leverkusen, comes from Bergisch Gladbach, Zieler began only a few kilometres away in Cologne-Höhenberg by playing in goal for the under 5s at Viktoria Cologne. In Hanover, he initially turned out for the second team in the Regionalliga Nord but then on 16 January he was given the chance to make his Bundesliga debut for the first team and gave a good account of himself in the 3-0 away win against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Just how hard a top goalkeeper has to work was something the new German international found out in the Bundesliga games both before and after his debut in the national team. In the 2-2 draw against Schalke 04 on 6 November, his coach Slomka openly faulted him for the two goals. In the 4-1 defeat in VfL Wolfsburg on 19 November, he again slipped up to allow the home team to equalise. Löw won’t be unduly worried. His new keeper may well be in the European Championship finalist’s squad again for the international in Bremen against France on 29 February. However, the national coach only calls up two keepers for a single game. Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich is a certainty. Whether Löw will ignore Wiese in Bremen of all places is doubtful. Whatever happens, the battle for the number two spot in the German national team behind Neuer has, thanks to Zieler’s top performances, has hotted up.