27 bones, 10 fingers expected to stop shots flying at 60 miles an hours, the hopes of expectations of a nation resting in two palms.
Some of the best moments in FIFA World Cup™ history have come at the hands of keepers, when the best strikes are saved by the last line of defense.
England’s Gordon Banks sprawling block of Pele’s incredible downward header in 1970 known as “the save that stopped the world,” Gianluigi Buffon’s magical run in 2006 when he conceded only twice and palmed Zinedine Zidane’s bullet header over the bar in extra time of the final to force a penalty-kick shootout, Iker Casillas’ stopping Arjen Robben twice in one-on-one situations in the 2010 final, once with his hands, once with his feet.
As Brazil beckons, who will be the next keeper to leave a lasting impression on the world’s stage?
Here’s our five sterling shot-stoppers, apart from the two aging stars listed above, who could make the difference for their countries next summer:
- Igor Akinfeev, Russia
What they’re saying: “He’s irreplaceable and he knows it. Speaking seriously, a star of this magnitude needs an individual approach from a coach. It requires some effort but, then again, that has paid off handsomely.” -Leonid Slutsky, CSKA Moscow manager, www.goal.com
What we’re saying: He’s the best professional player in Russia, and the rightful heir to the goalkeeping throne once occupied by all-time great and countryman Lev Yashin. As a preview of what’s to come in Brazil, Akinfeev began qualifying with a run of four straight clean sheets, and only conceded five times in 10 matches, never missing a minute.
What he wears: He’s an enigma, seemingly not sticking to a single brand or gloves model.
- Tim Howard, USA
What they’re saying: “Tim Howard showed on Saturday just what a magnificent moment of form he is enjoying. And what a magnificent goalkeeper he is.
“I can really say that I’ve not seen him do anything that has not been of the highest, highest level.” –Roberto Martinez, Everton manager, DailyMirror
What we’re saying: On the cusp of his 100th cap for the USMNT, Tim Howard is the best goalkeeper from a country known for producing world-class players in net. He’s tough, playing through a dislocated finger and broken bones in his back. He’s durable, holding down the starting job with Everton since 2006. Most importantly, he’s prideful, raising his game representing the Stars and Stripes, providing leadership and passion that permeates the squad.
What he wears: He sports various Nike gloves but always with a custom design. For example, Howard opts for a Nike GK Confidence 13 with a white palm instead of the standard black.
- Manuel Neuer, Germany
What they’re saying: “For me, Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. Casillas is past his best, whereas Neuer is still getting better.”
“The way he plays as a goalkeeper and his technique are extraordinary. Not just in possession, but mainly how he parries and catches shots.” -Former Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, 1994 FIFA World Cup United States winner, www.givemesport.com
What we’re saying: If you hadn’t heard of Neuer prior to his dominant display for Schalke against Manchester United in the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League, you surely knew his name after he made eight stunning saves and turned in what Sir Alex Ferguson called, “probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us,” in his 25 years in charge.
Neuer was a rising star then, and he’s only reached taller heights since moving on to Bayern Munich and taking the reins from retired German elites Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehman.
What he wears: When you are as good as Manuel Neuer, you get a gloves named after you. The German in goal dons the adidas Predator Pro Neuer 14.
-Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
What they’re (he’s) saying: “I am in my best moment of form right now. I feel as if I am among the top five goalkeepers in the world.” –Thibaut Courtois, www.espnfc.com
What we’re saying: Courtois has excelled while on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea the past three seasons, and he’s a huge part of the Rojiblancos emergence as La Liga title contenders. He’s part of Belgium’s Golden Generation and a huge part of why the Diables Rogues reached a historic best No. 5 mark in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking last month.
What he wears: Keeping it close to home, Courtois trusts Belgian company Real Tec to produce his gloves. More on that here from our friends at Soccer Confidential.
- Asmir Begovic, Bosnia-Hercegovina
What they’re saying: “We’ve got one of the top keepers in Europe. When he goes to the World Cup, he might prove he’s one of the best in the world. I’d like to work with Asmir for many, many seasons because I think he’s that good.” –Mark Hughes, Stoke City manager, Sky Sports
What we’re saying: In his time with Stoke, Begovic has had plenty of saves to make. He deals comfortably with those you’d expect him to snuff out, but proves himself as a step above by often standing on his head to beat back shots with which ordinary keepers wouldn’t have a chance. It’s no wonder he was voted Bosnian Footballer of the Year for 2013.
What he wears: Begovic, who recently became only the fifth goalkeeper to score a goal in the English Premier League, uses the Sells Silhouette Aqua to foil the best strikers in the game.