Gone are those days when goalkeepers in football were an afterthought. These players, who try to kill the fun in football by stopping goals, are now among the most prized assets of a team and it is now clearly established that to succeed at World Cups, an elite goalkeeper is an absolute necessity.
Hence, it is no surprise that the most recent World Cup winning goalkeepers – Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon – have attained legendary status in the global game and deservedly so. Goalkeeping is a specialised position in football that requires extra attention, be it in the form of personalised goalkeeping coaches or wearables that captures data completely different from an outfielder.
So, who are the custodians most likely to make an impact in this summer’s FIFA World Cup? There are quite a few candidates, and we run them down in this list of top goalies to watch out for in Russia.
Alisson Becker (Brazil)
The 25-year-old has turned heads after his rapid rise since moving to Europe with Italian outfit AS Roma from boyhood club Internacional in 2016, so much so that he is now valued close to an outrageous $100 million in the transfer market. Alisson will be one of the goalkeepers to watch in Russia not only because of his own exploits in front of goal but also because he will likely keep Manchester City’s Ederson – world’s most expensive goalkeeper – on the bench for Brazil.
Alisson racked up impressive stats this past season with Roma – his command of the penalty area is phenomenal having notched 1.8 saves per 90 minutes for shots inside the box in Serie A. He was also the key factor in Roma making it to the Champions League semi-finals, saving more shots from inside the penalty area (2.4 per 90) than any other goalkeeper in the tournament who played more than six games.
A solid World Cup would see his value skyrocket even more, as a tug-of-war for his signature lies in wait.
David de Gea (Spain)
De Gea will wear the Spain number 1 shirt for the first time in a major tournament and this might well be Spain’s year after a disappointing 2014 campaign. De Gea is on the back of another terrific season with Manchester United in the Premier League. He made the sixth most saves in the division and also equalled a record for the most saves (14) in a game against Arsenal last December.
De Gea’s impeccable reflexes have seen him make improbable saves but there is a bit of concern over his distribution, which isn’t yet the level of Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Ederson. That said, De Gea still plays a vital role in starting attacks for Spain as seen in la Roja’s 6-1 win over Argentina in March.
Despite winning the Manchester United fans’ Player of the Year award four times in the last five seasons and making the PFA Team of the Year in five of the last six seasons, Russia 2018 will see De Gea line up in a World Cup finals game for the first time in his career. He is definitely one to watch out for.
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
The 32-year-old has had a season blighted by injuries, limiting him to just four appearances for Bayern Munich in 2017-18. Regardless, Neuer has made it to Germany’s final 23 for the World Cup and the 1.93m custodian will be one player the entire world will be watching with much focus in Russia. Neuer is not your ordinary goalkeeper; he is one of the foremost sweeper-keepers in world football and is a vital component of Germany’s game system under Joachim Loew.
Neuer’s undoubted ability on the ball makes it easier for Germany to create overloads in build-up phases and allows the team to have a numerical advantage against high pressing units (which will hardly be seen at a short tournament like the World Cup). That aside, his range of passing allows Germany to start quick transitions from the back, an invaluable asset that other teams hardly possess.
Coming back from a lengthy layoff and straightaway finding himself in the middle of the World Cup storm might be challenging for Neuer, and that is what makes FIFA World Cup’s reigning Golden Glove winner one to watch out for.
Essam El-Hadary (Egypt)
Mohamed Salah might be Egypt’s biggest draw at the 2018 World Cup, but one Egyptian who is all set to cement his legend in history books is their 45-year-old goalkeeper and captain, Essam El-Hadary. El-Hadary, who made his international debut in 1996, is finally set to play at the grandest stage of them all.
Hector Cuper’s Egypt are a defensive outfit which would mean El-Hadary could be forced to make quite a few saves on his World Cup bow, but the man who is nicknamed High Dam (after the popular Egyptian water-blocking barrier) will lap it all up. El-Hadary and his defensive organisation will be cornerstones upon which Egypt will set up their game plan in Russia.
In an understrength group featuring Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and El-Hadary will fancy their chances of making it past the group stage. All Egyptian eyes will be on a certain Salah, but equally important will be the ageless figure of El-Hadary at the other end of the pitch.
Rui Patricio (Portugal)
A Euro 2016 winner with Portugal, Patricio will have his hands full at this World Cup particularly because of the leaky and out of form defence in front of him. Only 35-year-old Pepe is a guaranteed starter in defence with all the other options – Bruno Alves, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro, Ruben Dias, Ricardo Pereira, Mario Rui and Cedric Soares – either out of form or inexperienced, which means Patricio will have a more significant role to play in Fernando Santos’ side in Russia 2018 than in Euro 2016.
Patricio is coming off the back of a less-than-convincing Liga campaign with Sporting Lisbon, conceding 24 goals as the Lions finished third despite spending more money than any other club in Portugal. His future at the club he joined in 2007 is in the air with reports emerging of the player handing a resignation along with many of his teammates, hence it will be interesting to see whether Patricio can repeat his 2016 heroics with the national team.
In what will probably be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last World Cup, Portugal, with an out of sorts defence, will heavily rely on Patricio’s brilliance in front of goal to set the stage for the ‘keeper’s more illustrious teammate up front to shine.
Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas is set to become the only modern-day goalkeeper to feature in the World Cup finals with three back-to-back Champions League wins and is Costa Rica’s main man as the Los Ticos look to see off the challenges of Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in Group E.
Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa stunned the world at the 2014 World Cup when he saved Neymar’s header off the line and he’ll once again be seen in action in Russia for El Tri. Iceland’s Hannes Thor Halldorsson is another to watch out for after his heroics in Euro 2016 made him a cult hero in the footballing world.
On to ‘keepers with better reputations, Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel and France’s Hugo Lloris will have huge expectations on their shoulders. The two top Premier League goalkeepers are well-known for their reflexes, distribution and leadership and will be among the ones to watch out for in Russia 2018.
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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 15:56:31 IST