Goal-keeper`s World Cup: Best of shot-stoppers in Brazil
Fame and recognition hardly come for goal-keepers. But the 2014 FIFA World Cup, so far, has witnessed some of greatest saves and luckily, some goalies have earned the respect and admiration from fans and foes alike. In fact, thanks to their performances under the bar, under immense pressure, the Brazil World Cup is becoming the goal-keepers` World Cup.
Let`s have a look at three goal-keepers who defied odds during the World Cup:
From goal-keeping to Secretary of Defense:
In the final match of the Round of 16, American Tim Howard did everything a goal-keeper should do, from inspiring his defenders, opening moves and of course saving shots, lots of them. The 35-year-old Everton goal-keeper made numerous saves to keep a fluent Belgian attack at bay for close to half an hour, before two unstoppable goals robbed him of a deserved quarter-final appearance. He ended up making 16 aves during the match, which was the highest recorded in a World Cup since 1966.
Howard impressed everyone with his performances against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in the group stage. And the fans included POTUS, Barack Obama and his Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It is believed that Hagel called Howard to congratulate after the Round of 16 match and purportedly told that with some training, the goalie could someday become the real Secretary of Defense.
Navas made a killing or two in Group D:
Keylor Navas, the Costa Rican goal-keeper is still active and to his credit, has made some awesome saves for himself and the team. His form will be pivotal in Costa Rica`s chances against the Netherlands, considering the miss-match in the fixture. In fact, the Central American nation is still in the competition, thanks to Levante keeper`s decisive save against Greece in their Round of 16 penalty shoot-out. The 27-year-old struggled with his fitness the entire match in Recife, but like a true guard, he stood his ground and helped his team achieve a historic feat – playing in their first ever World Cup quarter-final match.
He kept clean-sheets against Italy and England, in the so-called Group of Death `D`. It may well be deduced that he was the reason for the premature exits of these two European heavyweights from the tournament. Both the teams, with a pedigree as high and lofty as those of Greek legends, failed to beat Navas and subsequently bowed out, leaving an unheralded Costa Rica team as one of the eight teams after almost three weeks of action.
Before arriving in Brazil, Navas was busy with Spanish club Levante, doing the same chores. After the new-found fame as one of the best goal-keepers, his reputation has scaled new heights. A bid from the recently crowned La Liga champions Atletico Madrid is now making headlines in the Andulasion nation. Levante president Quico Catalan has warned bidders, including Atletico to either pay the full buy-out amount of GBP 8m or forget the bid.
Enyeama - An inspiration for both the club and country:
Another goal-keeper who has made a name for himself in Brazil is Vincent Enyeama. The Nigerian goalie almost carried the weight of whole Africa continent on his broad shoulders. But the tragedy was, his role was limited to mere goal-keeping. During the short-lived campaign, Enyeama inspired his team-mates to fight against all odds. His performance against the Lionel Messi-led Argentina certainly earned plaudits. But his numerous saves in their Round of 16 clash with France stood out.
Plying his trade in France, Lille goalie thwarted every known attack thrown at the Nigerian goal with utter disdain and arrogance for more than an hour. During the just concluded season, he went through a period of nearly 18 hours without conceding a goal and allowed Lille to fight for a top finish. For the national team at the World Cup, his key sense of positioning and passing helped Nigeria play a high line of defence.
Ochoa - From a free-agent to Banks
However, a certain free-agent from Mexico returned home as one of the greatest players or probably the star goal-keeper of this tournament after helping Mexico qualify for the Round of 16 in Brazil. They exited the tournament after losing to the Netherlands, thanks to a contentious last minute penalty, but Guillermo Ochoa won plaudits from all corners. He stood at point-blank range producing heart-stopping saves. Literally, some of the saves could have stopped his heart. But he went on standing tall under the bar to give a new meaning to the art of goal-keeping.
Before the the knock-out stage, the 28-year-old goalie shocked Brazil after denying Neymar a certain goal with a stop, which is now being touted as one of the greatest ever saves in the recorded history of the game. His full-length dive to the right has already been compared to Gordon Banks` great leap to deny Pele a goal in the 1970 World Cup. The match ended in a goal-less draw, ensuring Mexico`s passage into the next round.
The `former` AC Ajaccio goalie also kept clean-sheets against Cameroon. His performance in Brazil made so much impact that an Ajaccio fan has offered to sell his house in a bid to keep the Mexican at the Ligue 2 club.
In contrast, the legends in Iker Cassilas and Gianluigi Buffon have had indifferent outings in Brazil. Meanwhile, still active in the tournament, Brazilian Julio Cesar, Belgian Thibaut Courtois and German Manuel Neuer can make the 2014 truly goal-keeper`s year.