This World Cup has thrown light to a difficult yet under rated job in the world of football – Goalkeeping.
As a kid all of us, who have played football, have often dreamt of being a lethal striker with the immense skill of Ronaldinho or the eye for goal like Ronaldo (the Brazilian one). Soon newer and more admirable players came into light and we all got wiser in the footballing world. A few appreciated the finesse with which a Bale made his runs or Pirlo played his through balls, a few others went on to even admire the talent that went behind what made Maldini and Nesta who they are. But to admire the hard work and patience of a goalkeeper you either had to be a hard core football fan or a goalkeeper yourself.
Goals scored by strikers are often remembered for years together, but do we really remember saves made by goal keepers? Except for Rene Higuita’s exceptional Scorpion kick save, most of us would remember the goal keeper as a man in different clothes with the same sponsors standing near the goal posts. Goal-keeping is an art form that is very much underrated and unappreciated, for you may make one hundred saves in a game and concede one, you will be still be remembered for the one you let go. As Mark Anthony said in his speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
For years people have celebrated the chivalrous goal scorers and players through awards such as the Golden Boot and Ballon d’Or, but has anyone ever eagerly waited for the presentation of the Golden Glove? Only FIFA and respective country leagues present a Goalkeeper’s award at the end of the tournament. Where as in case of a Ballon D’or, the most coveted award for any footballer, the goalkeeper usually isn’t even considered for it let alone winning it. History of the Golden Ball awards presented at the end of the World Cup shows that except for Jose Nasazzi in 1930, who was a right back, every other winner of the Golden Ball has been a striker or a winger. Till date Oliver Kahn is the only goalkeeper to have had the prestigious honor of picking up this trophy.
This World Cup has had somewhat a different impact on the game. Apart from the Müllers and the Rodríguezes we have witnessed a flurry of spectacular saves and some heroic goalkeeping (except for the Russian keeper’s ‘save‘ against South Korea.) The Mexico vs Brazil match broke hearts, as the former was knocked out, more for the fact that their keeper will no longer be in the World Cup than the rest of the team, who no doubt were exceptional. The impenetrable Guillermo Ochoa kept a clean sheet in two of the three group stage games and conceded two goals only in the dying minutes of the game against Netherlands. He was sure to have been a contender for the Golden Glove had his team gone forward in the tournament.
Nigeria had a star amongst them in the form of Vincent Enyeama. The ever smiling Nigerian took his team forward to the round of 16 where he kept out attempts thrown at him from the inform French squad for nearly 80 minutes. His positioning and awareness was impeccable and his decisions to charge or dive were spot on. His hardworking defence finally succumbed to the pressure and made a few errors, which led to the Super Eagles being knocked out of the tournament. Vincent Enyeama’s amazing season at Lille was carried forward to the World Cup and put on one of the best goal keeping performance against Les Bleus even though he conceded two goals. The fact that we will not witness such antics in further games is indeed a sad truth to face.
The shiny bald head, that long flowing beard and the accent where he rolls his R’s when he says America; these are some of the qualities that we do not bother about too much. However he isn’t just all that, the Everton stronghold although having conceded 6 goals in 4 games put up an unforgettable performance against Belgium, which earned meme’s in 1000’s. His phenomenal keeping skills was what ensured USA weren’t beaten red white and blue out of one of the most competitive groups of this World Cup. Not only did he out save his competitor Thibaut Courtois, he even set a world record for most number of saves by any goalkeeper in 90 minutes which stands at 16.
The evolving role of the keeper sweeper grows in a fast paced evolving modern game and Manual Neuer was one who displayed what this role demands in the game against Algeria. Jogi did an AVB by playing a high line with four slow defenders. This was clearly exploited by the Algerian wingers, who marched past the likes of Howedes and Mustafi like knife through butter. The only force that ensured Germany didn’t hop back on a plane home was Neuer’s well-timed charges. Many have often criticized Neuer to be reckless and stupid for his urge to play almost as a holding midfield than a goal keeper, but in this situation the German manager would have surely thanked the starts to have had the Bayern Munich star in his squad.
Many a names have gone unmentioned, the likes of Julio Caesar’s saves in the penalty shootout against Chile or Fernando Muslera’s performance for Uruguay. This World Cup has unearthed many a talented goal keepers and it is inevitable that we are to witness more amazing displays from the remaining eight teams. It is safe to say that the team that wins this year’s World Cup will have one of the best keepers in the tournament.