Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Credit the Goalkeepers in the World Cup Final

Goalkeepers in soccer have a thankless job. They can make all the right moves, make the save and still not get praise for their actions. The striker gets all the credit or rather criticism if he misses.

As I read the post mortem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Final between Spain and the Netherlands and won by Spain, I noted that two opportunities(one for each of Netherlands and Spain) were described as bad misses by the striker, with little mention of any goalkeeping skills.

I believe we can give both goalkeepers in this game, Iker Casillas of Spain and Maarten Stekelenburg of Netherlands, credit for excellent performances and two great saves of a very similar type.

Take a look at the two saves. The first is Casillas saving a one on one chance for Arjen Robben of the Netherlands:

This second video is of Stekelenburg saving a shot from Cesc Fabregas of Spain.

Most of us expected the strikers, especially Robben, to score from that position, but in both cases the goalkeepers read the situation and made the best decisions to give themselves a chance of making the saves.

Lets look at what they did to make the shot as difficult as possible for the strikers.
  1. They both come out toward the striker cutting down the angle for the shot. This makes it more difficult for the strikers to simply shoot directly at goal. They now have to be more accurate, go for the corners, attempt to chip over the goalkeepers or dribble around them first.
  2. At the same time as they cut down on the angle both goalkeepers stay upright and balanced, waiting for the striker to decide which way to go. As Fabregas was not directly in front of goal, Stekelenburg also covers a little to Fabregas' right side and thereby cutting off any chance that he may cut back inside.
  3. Both goalkeepers stay on their feet as long as possible, only picking a direction to dive at the last moment. This allowed them to make a better prediction of which way to dive.
  4. In both saves the goalkeepers dive the wrong way. They attempt to predict which way to dive wait as long as possible and consider the tendencies of the striker approaching them before making up their minds. Robben strongly favors his left foot and running at pace it is easier and more accurate to aim across goal, so Casillas chose to dive left and cover the cross goal shot. Stekelenburg was also facing a left footed striker in Fabregas, but as Fabregas was not directly in front of goal and Stekelenburg was already covering his own left side, he predicted that Fabregas would shoot to the inside right corner and therefore chose to dive right and cover this shot.
  5. Both strikers choose the more difficult shot (Robben, inside out, to the bottom right corner and Fabregas across goal to bottom left), and the goalkeepers do a good job spreading out with their legs and getting a little bit of luck to deflect the ball behind.

Both of these are great saves and worthy of a little credit even if some luck is involved. A goalkeeper can only make the best choices to make the strike difficult and then hope for a save.

Of course had either or both of Robben and Fabregas scored, no one would have blamed the goalkeepers.

Well done to Spain the 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions and South Africa for being incredible host. We are looking forward to Brazil in 2014 already.

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