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The World Cup so far: goalkeepers in the spotlight

We’re less than a week into the month-long World Cup, and there’s already plenty to discuss — much of it involving goalkeepers’ poor performances.

Specifically, much scorn has been heaped upon the usually top-notch Robert Green, whose mistake in the U.S.-England game on June 12 allowed the underdog American side to earn an unlikely point from a 1-1 draw.

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England goalkeeper Rob Green.

The Three Lions scored a good goal in just the fourth minute via Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. But the U.S.’s Clint Dempsey, who plays for English Premier League outfit Fulham, equalized for the Americans in the 40th minute when Green fumbled Dempsey’s speculative shot from distance:

The English side were expected to win. And though they played better and created more chances than the U.S., it was Green’s error — in addition to some inspired saves from his counterpart in the U.S. goal, Tim howard — that turned the game. ((The result inspired frenzied media coverage in the U.S. and in the U.K. For a British take on the media response in the U.S., see this Sun item. And here’s a summary of British tabloid headlines from USA TODAY. There was also plenty of discussion on Twitter. @ShamSports tweeted: “Dictate, command, govern, eclipse, lead, dominate…then give it all back for free. Pretty much sums up England’s relationship with America.”))

I mentioned, in my last post, that I’m eager to see how the world’s best goalkeepers perform in this tournament. And I must say I’m surprised we’ve seen so many goalkeeping errors so far. Indeed, Green hasn’t been the only one to commit a conspicuous mistake.

On June 13, Algerian custodian Faouzi Chaouchi let a fairly tame shot slip through his hands, costing his team points against Slovenia.

And then yesterday, North Korea’s goalkeeper, Ri Myong Guk was caught out when Brazil’s magnificent Maicon scored at the near post. ((Perhaps the North Korean stopper found himself intimidated on the world stage. It would be hard to blame him if that were the case. He plays his club soccer for Pyongyang City Sports Group in the DPR Korea League.))

Indeed, all goalkeepers — even the best of them — make mistakes that lead to goals. Here’s Gigi Buffon, widely regarded as the world’s best custodian, making a schoolboy error a few years back.

So what’s the problem?

Some have speculated that the ball is to blame.

jabulani.jpg

Germany coach Joachim Löw and the Jabulani.

The new Adidas Jabulani model is said to swerve and bounce unpredictably. Others say that the altitude may be to blame, as many games are being played in thin air, where driven balls dip and bend in strange ways. But these lapses seem to be errors in technique more than spills caused by odd aerodynamics. It will be interesting to see if the goalkeeping blunders continue through the tournament.

And finally, on a lighter note, if you missed the U.S.-England match — and Green’s mistake — you might enjoy watching the replay below, which has been recreated using LEGOs:

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2 Comments

  1. Cory

    Not that it would have changed the win/loss outcome, but Australia’s keeper was always in the wrong spot. I was screaming at him the entire match.

    And today, we see not one, but two (!) keepers lead with their feet*, both leading to unnecessary goals (and one to a send-off).

    *Every competent 14 year old keeper knows better.

    • I agree, Cory — I was particularly surprised to Spain’s Casillas go feet-first. If he had gone for the ball with proper technique, with his hands to the ball, he might have been able to smother it, and there would have been no rebound. And no goal.

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