As the clock ticks down towards the start of the World Cup 2014, speculation about which teams are likely to perform well is intensifying. While success in such a team sport like football comes from the collective effort of all the players in the field, there is always that singular player who digs deep to make a difference. Goalkeepers are uniquely placed as individuals to determine the outcome of matches, perhaps more significantly than any outfield player. So, who are the goalkeepers who are likely to produce the most significant performances over the course of the tournament? We are putting our money on these ten men to turn up the most significant performances for their teams in between the posts.
10. Asmir Begovic – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly go to Brazil as rank underdogs but in their goalie, Asmir Begovic, they have a player who is certain to stand out for his outstanding performances. Over the past few seasons, Begovic has cemented his place in the Barclays Premiership side Stoke City’s starting lineup. The Bosnian is commanding in the air and has an instinct for putting himself in just the right places to intercept crosses. If Bosnia and Herzegovina manage to make it into the knockout stages, you can bet your last cent that Begovic’s performances will be crucial to the feat.
9. Hugo Lloris – France
Tottenham Hotspur’s and French number 1 Hugo Lloris is an excellent goalkeeper: firm, quick and decisive when called upon to make difficult choices. But Lloris’ value goes beyond that of a mere custodian as his sweeping abilities are at par with the best fullbacks in the world. France will be looking to put an improved performance after vastly underwhelming series of tournaments since they last won the World Cup on home soil in 1998. If this is to happen, they will be counting on Hugo Lloris continuing with his fine form.
8. Joe Hart – England
Although still prone to make the occasional costly error, Joe Hart is still a pretty dependable pair of hands for the Three Lions team. He has excellent instincts, unflinching decisiveness and no striker would call him a pushover. At 6-foot-3, he has the height needed to come out on top during those aerial battles. Another strength England will be grateful to exploit in Joe Hart is his ball distribution skills. He has the accuracy and keenness to spot his players who are well placed to launch an attack and as such can make a difference in the team’s offensive moves too.
7. Thibaut Courtois – Belgium
In a team brimming with young talent, Courtois is a youthful prodigy at the centre of the Belgian Team’s ambitions to take the battle to the big teams in Brazil. Playing for Atletico Madrid, Courtois has really come on age with exceptional performances in one of the toughest leagues in the world. His movement, instincts and goal presence are at par with the best in the game. When all is said and done, this 21 year old Belgian has all the essential ingredients needed to stop even the wiliest of strikers.
6. Fernando Muslera – Uruguay
Muslera proved all his doubters wrong when he put up an impressive set of performances over the course of Uruguay’s march to the semi finals in South Africa 2010. He comes back to Brazil a more hardened and experienced custodian. Just to prove his pedigree, he made some valuable contributions in helping his country finish fourth in Brazil last summer during the FIFA Confederations Cup tournament.
5. Igor Akinfeev – Russia
Keen and dependable Igor Akinfeev is well poised to attain hero status for his country Russia in the World Cup just as he has regularly done for his club CSKA Moscow over the past few years. Bold and imaginative, Akinfeev is known for his penchant to bulldoze his way through walls to get to high balls, incredible lateral movement and instinctive shot-stopping ability. If there was anyone doubting just how dependable Akinfeev is, then the fact that he only let in 10 goals in a tough qualifying group which included Portugal should be proof enough.
4. Tim Howard – United States of America
Tim Howard has continued to impress in the intermission between two World Cups, pulling out match winning performances both for the US National Men’s Team as well as his English club Everton. This quality of play should continue well into the World Cup finals as it is clear that Howard is among the best in the world. He has great size and physical presence that will stand him in good stead defending set pieces. Howard is also known for his ability to stop shots, steal crosses and his uncanny ability to lead from the back when marshalling his teammates.
3. Gianluigi Buffon – Italy
The evergreen Gianluigi Buffon is poised to make yet another incredible appearance for Italy at the World Cup finals. At 36, age is finally starting to catch up with him but he still remains a force to be reckoned with in between the uprights. Buffon’s longevity owes to the fact that he has a complete balance of all the qualities you look for in a goalkeeper: he is quick, has excellent aerial skills and tops it all off with his natural poise as a leader of fellow men on the pitch.
2. Iker Casillas – Spain
Casillas may no longer be the number one choice goalie for Real Madrid but when it comes to the national team, he retains his top dog status in a team boasting an embarrassment of talent right through the field. Casillas has many excellent qualities that uniquely place him as a top custodian. He performs well in aerial battles, has an uncanny shot stopping ability and this is perhaps most impressive when he is called upon to perform in penalty shootouts. With such an excellent pedigree, it is easy to see why Casillas remains the captain of his national team and one of the best goalkeepers ever to grace a World Cup finals stage.
1. Manuel Neuer – Germany
Football purists have enjoyed watching Manuel Neuer morph into a well rounded goalkeeper with stunning performances which have earned him a perpetual place in a Bayern Munich team which many agree is currently the best in the world. Neuer has all the vital ingredients required in a world class goalkeeper. His hulking 6′ 4″ frame makes him a formidable force in stopping even the most aggressive of attacks. His instincts are almost other-worldly and he rarely (if ever) makes mistakes when anticipating shots. But he rounds it all with spectacular ball distribution skills which would become any outfield player. Germany go into these finals as one of the favourites to win the trophy and the form of Neuer will be crucial if they are to achieve that ambition.
It is the bane of being a goalkeeper that often no one notes you until you make a costly mistake for your team. However, we believe goalkeepers play a very crucial role in their team’s performances at major tournaments. During the course of Brazil 2014, the 10 goalkeepers profiled above are the men to watch out for.