• Guillermo Ochoa doing his thing against Netherlands (Getty Images)
When it comes to magnificent goalkeeping performances, we’ve been truly spoilt at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The sad thing is many of the 'keepers responsible are now on their way home.
By
Toby Forage

1 Jul 2014 - 9:53 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 8:00 AM

It all started with Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico’s No.1, who took the tournament by storm with a stunning display of shot stopping against Brazil in the Group A encounter. Looking like he’s fresh from a Jane Fonda workout clip, the headband-wearing 28 year-old went on to put in similarly excellent shifts against Croatia and Netherlands, but the Oranje eventually broke through to advance to the quarter-finals.

Joining Ochoa in the outstanding goalkeepers’ union has been Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, who against France in the last 16 clash was immense, notwithstanding an error late in the game that led to Les Bleus' first goal from Paul Pogba in the 79th minute.

Vincent Enyama denies France (Getty Images)

That tussle that was tighter than Fonda's leggings, and prior to his one error of judgement, Enyeama had denied Pogba what looked a certain goal in the first half, among a string of other excellent saves. Against Argentina, stacked with the likes of Lionel Messi and some of the world's other great attacking players, he also proved impenetrable at times.

We saw Algeria's Rais Mbolhi also pull off a string of saves against Germany that kept Les Fennecs in the game until the first couple of minutes of extra-time. He pulled off one particularly incredible double save that beggared belief and did Colombia's James Rodiguez a big favour in the golden boot stakes by blocking a point-blank header from Thomas Muller.

Rais Mbolhi keeps Germany's Thomas Muler at bay (Getty Images)

Such performances can be the lifeblood of a team under pressure, and as Germany's own Manuel Neuer showed, goalkeepers can often be the difference between a team winning and losing.

Neuer was as important for Die Mannschaft against Algeria as those up front struggling to get past Mbolhi, acting as a sweeper for the most part and spending more time compensating for Germany's somewhat sluggish centre backs outside his area than stopping shots inside it.

Costa Rica was provided similar inspiration in its round of 16 clash against Greece by goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Having denied the 2004 European champion for 120 minutes, Navas went coolly into a shootout and pulled off a truly breathtaking save from Theofanis Gekas that was no fluke.

Diving to his right, Navas stuck up a left mitt and gave Michael Umana the chance to bury Costa Rica's fifth spot kick to win the match, an opportunity the defender duly took.

Keylor Navas saves Theofanis Gekas's penalty (Getty Images)

"We played together at Levante and I remembered what (Fanis) used to do in training," Navas said after the game.

"I was confident he wasn't going to change the way he takes his penalties, and in the end I was able to keep it out."

Julio Cesar, between the sticks for host nation Brazil, proved himself to be another penalty hero when he stood firm against Chile in the round of 16 shootout in Belo Horizonte. For him it was redemption for the howler that sealed Brazil's exit in 2010 to eventual runner-up Netherlands.

And therein lays the fragility of the vocation.

Some of the giants of the glove trade coming into the tournament have been found wanting at Brazil 2014, none more so than Iker Casillas. The 33-year-old Real Madrid legend conceded five against Netherlands in Spain's opening match as defending champion, a performance that soured its entire campaign and contributed to its meek exit from Brazil.

Italy veteran Gianluigi Buffon showed a couple of glimpses of his former glories after missing the Azzurri's opening match against England, but he too ultimately hit the airport early as his team also failed to negotiate the group stages.

Belgium’s Thibault Courtois is often said to be the world's best goalkeeper right now, but he's had little to do in the Red Devils' campaign so far. He'll be opposite another favourite of the craft in Tim Howard when Belgium meets the United States in the final round of 16 match-up. The result of that game will rob us of one more goalkeeping star, but who would bet against one of them being a key factor for either the winning or losing side in that encounter?

Not since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea have we spoken so much of goalkeepers at the tournament. Back then, Germany's Oliver Kahn - the only goalkeeper to ever win the World Cup Golden Boot - was the big man on campus, parrying and punching his side to the final with some ridiculous showings.

Ultimately, though, he'd come up short against Brazil in the showpiece.

 

After some super saves through the first hour, Kahn spilled a shot from Rivaldo in the 67th minute that Ronaldo pounced on to put the Selecao 1-0 up, and Kahn was again beaten by the World Cup's greatest striker 11 minutes from time, Germany losing the showpiece 2-0.

As Julio Cesar knows, and Enyeama so cruelly discovered against France today in Nigeria's defeat, that transition from hero to villain can be a swift and unforgiving journey. It's fair to say most don't pay keepers due respect.

They're not paid as much as outfield players, and despite being as important as attacking players in terms of keeping teams in a contest, rarely receive the headlines and plaudits of their more showy team-mates.

That's why we hope Brazil 2014 will be remember as a World Cup of goalkeepers, as much as it will for the attacking brilliance and free goal-scoring that's been on offer thus far.

POSTSCRIPT: Tim Howard and Thibault Courtois went head to head in the round of 16, and both were against sensational, Howard perhaps above all other keepers in this World Cup so far with a breathtaking for United States against Belgium in their round of 16 clash. Belgium won the game 2-1 after extra-time, both keepers doing their bit to keep their sides in it. But the weight of chances eventually told for the Red Devils, and despite saving more than 20 attempts on his goal, and dealing with 19 corners, Howard had to leave the field in defeat. Here's his take on one of the greatest goalkeeping displays ever seen at a World Cup.