Tim Krul drew attention to the role during Holland’s extraordinary shootout win against Costa Rica. Who are the others?
Cristiano Ronaldo got an early clue that this was not going to be his tournament when Neuer produced a superb save from a stoppage-time free-kick to prevent Portugal from salvaging even a sliver of consolation from their crushing defeat by Germany. But it is not his shot-stopping that has distinguished Neuer, it is the way he has practically redefined the role of goalkeeper, taking the sweeper-keeper function to an extreme never before showcased with such success.
His charges out of his box prevented Algeria, in particular, from revelling in the space behind Germany’s high defensive line, compensating for Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace. In addition to the obvious effectiveness, the sight of the hulking keeper hurtling towards confrontation must have a potent mindgame value – Asamoah Gyan, for instance, fled ridiculously wide when presented with the chance to take on Neuer one-on-one. What is more, Neuer’s superb distribution makes him the first line of attack.
Way to ace a job interview. Ochoa, a free agent after three outstanding seasons at Ajaccio, was unlikely to be short of offers before the tournament but his displays for Mexico may have endeared him to a new calibre of recruiter. The 28-year-old’s agility, reflexes and robust wrists enabled him to make an array of improbable saves. Brazil players wondered whether there had been divine intervention when he helped Mexico to draw against them, while it took some devilry from Arjen Robben to beat Ochoa in the end.
The 27-year-old came into the tournament after a wonderful season in which he set a clean-sheet record for Levante but it has still been a major surprise to see Costa Rica advance to the quarter-finals while conceding only two goals in five matches – Uruguay, Italy, England, Greece and Holland. Behind a solid unit, Navas was a secure presence. As the pressure increased, his performances rose accordingly, with his exhibitions of shot-stopping against Greece and Holland among the highlights of the tournament.
Another goalkeeper who arrived after a record-breaking season at club level. Enyeama carried on the form that made him nigh-on unbeatable for Lille, pulling off a series of extraordinary saves, starting in the first match against Iran, when Nigeria dominated but would have lost if the goalkeeper had not kept enough concentration to tip away a header from Reza Ghoochannejhad. He then kept Bosnia-Herzegovina at bay before thwarting Lionel Messi and Argentina for long periods despite conceding three. When a goalkeeper falls below perfection, however, he can be punished severely and Enyeama’s mishandling of a cross against France enabled Paul Pogba to score the winning goal and ruined another otherwise immaculate performance.
Even though he made a tournament-record number of saves against Belgium, the American’s shot-stopping was not the most admirable aspect of his performances in Brazil – and not only because most of Belgium’s efforts were straight at the goalkeeper, their forwards’ odd lack of composure seemingly making them unable to spot Howard’s tendency to go low prematurely, a habit that Nani had exploited earlier. That quibble aside, Howard’s influence seemed immense as his leadership helped coax valiant resistance from defenders who might otherwise have been torn apart. He inspired his team-mates with words and deeds.
The Algeria No1 did not arrive in Brazil with a big reputation. In fact the Hearts manager, Robbie Nielsen, admitted this month that he had no recollection of M’Bohli being at the Scottish club and they are one of nine sides where he did a stint before joining his present employer, CSKA Sofia, where he is not a regular starter. Like many of his team-mates, he earned new respect. His display against Germany was the crowning glory, as he repelled a fusillade with some spectacular blocks such as the reflex stop from a close-range Thomas Müller or, best of all, a diving, fingertip save to push a Philipp Lahm drive just round a post. Unforgettable.
Researchers and sports scientists spend lots of time and money trying to figure out how best to prepare for tournaments but none of them has ever submitted a thesis recommending a year on the Loftus Road bench followed by a sojourn in the boondocks of Toronto FC. But that was César’s prelude to this World Cup and the 34-year-old has so far justified the manager’s decision to keep faith with him. He made sharp saves from Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic to prevent Brazil from suffering a shock defeat in the opening game and made an outstanding save in normal time against Chile to keep out a shot from Charles Aránguiz. Before the shootout he told his team-mates to “hit them with confidence and I’ll stop three” and then turned away efforts from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sánchez before Gonzalo Jara tried too hard to put the ball out of the goalkeeper’s reach and hit a post.
Playing in front of Courtois must give defenders the same sense of security that a slight time delay gives live broadcasters, who thus know they may escape punishment for any goof. Belgium did not sparkle in this tournament but nor did they ever really look in danger – except in the dying stages of the game against the USA, and in their moment of greatest need Courtois was on hand to bail them out, making a top block to thwart Clint Dempsey after a smart free-kick. And while Belgium left the tournament with a whimper, Courtois at least showed that his own defiance remained intact as he made a splendid late save to foil Lionel Messi.
Colombia entertained with their attacking play but on the rare occasion that their defence was infiltrated, Ospina proved a reliable guardian. His display in the second-half against Uruguay was especially impressive as he made four crucial stops to preserve his team’s lead, including one excellent intervention to deny Maxi Pereira. In the end it took a scrambled goal from Thiago Silva and an odd swirling free-kick to confound the Colombia No1.
Was he really a penalty-saving specialist before Louis van Gaal introduced him from the bench just seconds before the quarter-final shootout against Costa Rica? His record did not suggest so but the unusual substitution planted the idea in the opposition’s mind and Krul’s two saves mean that now he really can be considered a specialist. A bluff that became a truth: masterful.