Feature: Crunch time for Neuer: Ready for the World Cup?

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BERLIN, May 4 (Xinhua) -- After Germany's star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was sidelined with a broken foot in September last year, millions of Germans are preoccupied with his health and fitness.

Effenberg said German football can count on other top-class goalkeepers like Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (FC Barcelona), Bernd Leno, who is rumored to be on his way from Bayer Leverkusen to Atletico Madrid this summer, or Kevin Trapp (Paris St Germain).

Not only are they lending Manuel Neuer advice but they all have an opinion as to whether or not he will return to action in time for the 2018 World Cup.

Neuer's return was initially planned for January but was then postponed to March or April. Bayern's coach Jupp Heynckes then announced that, "he will play sometime this season."

By Oliver Trust

"His big goal is to be part of the World Cup. It would be helpful if he could play some games in advance," Bayern's chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said after Neuer attended the team's training this Thursday.

According to former German international Stefan Effenberg, Neuer is risking his future as a professional by returning too early. "It's becoming more and more difficult with the World Cup looming. I count on his common sense to weigh up the pros and cons and not make a rash decision," the former midfielder commented.

While national coach Joachim Loew is said to be optimistic that Neuer will be back in the fold for the team's pre-tournament preparation camp in northern Italy from May 23 to June 9, other experts are less confident.

It would be more important to secure his long-term future than to take a big risk, Effenberg stressed.

The third opportunity is a delicate issue as it would mean leaving out Neuer's replacement Sven Ulreich in the German Cup final on May 19. As Ulreich has played the majority of the season, many feel he should be rewarded with the final.

While Germany has two friendlies ahead of the World Cup in Russia, Neuer's club Bayern Munich only has three games before the season ends.

Defender Mats Hummels said that Ulreich has done a great job this season but added: "We've played the entire season without the world's best keeper."

The league match this weekend against Cologne seems too early for a return. Neuer will most likely be in the team for the final game of the season at home to VfB Stuttgart next week.

The Berlin-based tabloid Bild reports that there has been a setback and the 32-year-old goalkeeper was unable to do any work with the ball at a recent training session.

Ulreich's howler in the Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid has sparked a debate about Bayern's next steps to solve their goalkeeping conundrum.