They have one of the most difficult parts to play, but are often overshadowed, if not overlooked, by the more glamorous forwards. But Tuesday's World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico proved just how crucial the part of goalkeepers is.
Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa’s seven goal saves — most of them nearly defying physics, gravity and human limitations — was all that was required to bring the spotlight back onto the keepers. Soon after, Ochoa was called many names — great wall of Mexico, wonder goalie, steeliegoalie, flying Mexican — and looking at his brilliant goalkeeping, he deserved to hold the high rank.
However, there are others who can match up to his stature, if not exceed it. And though they may not have come to light as much, they remain to be backbones of their teams — because, if you can't stop goals, what is the point of scoring them.
One such goalkeeper is Spain's Iker Casillas. Though the La Furia Roja may be playing a do-or-die World Cup match with Chile to advance to the next stage, Casillas is a player who can’t be ignored. He is considered to be one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation.
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas saves a ball during a training session of the Spanish national team at the Atletico Paranaense training center in Curitiba, Brazil, on Monday. (AP Photo)
Casillas, who also captains Spain's national team, became the goalkeeper with most appearances of all time in the UEFA Champions League. In November 2011, he became the most capped player of for the Spanish side — he has amassed 155 caps for his country.
In the Spain vs Netherlands match, the Dutch had a whopping 10 shots on the goal. Two of them went through as a result of Casillas’ blunder. While he made a couple of early saves, that doesn't disguise the fact that the Spaniard was horrible in the opening match. It is yet to be seen whether Casillas would live up to his reputation in the future matches.
Another person who can match up to the high standards set by Ochoa is Gianluigi Buffon of Italy. Not many players can boast of being named as one of the 125 greatest living footballers in the world by Brazilian football legend Pele.
Italy's Gianluigi Buffon tries to stop a ball during a training session in Mangaratiba, Brazil, on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Buffon has been named the ‘Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year’ a record eight times and was the winner of the 2006 Yashin Award after Italy clinched the World Cup the same year. The Italian is the only goalkeeper to have won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year Award, which he clinched in 2003. Buffon also won the award for best goalkeeper that year. In 2006, Buffon was runner-up for the Ballon d'Or, proving that performance comes above all else.
And if that weren't enough, he was also named the International Federation of Football History & Statistics' (IFFHS) goalkeeper of the year four times, and was also named goalkeeper of the 21st century and of the decade, adding another feather to his cap.
Like Casillas, Buffon too captains his national squad. Though he missed the opening match against England due to an ankle injury, the veteran keeper is slated to come back on Friday against Costa Rica.
The list can go on, but for now, these are the keepers to follow closely as they hold the potential of conjuring another goalkeeper’s match like the one Mexico played against Brazil.