Having a good goalkeeper is key to a team’s success. Particularly in such a short tournament like the World Cup. With the first round over I thought I’d talk about some of the goalkeepers that have been key to their team’s success so far this tournament. I’m only going to be including goalkeepers from teams that made it out of the first round. That’s a bit of a shame because we’ve seen good performances so far from some guys that are going home.
In certain situations their teams are going home despite their best efforts not because they didn’t enough. Mohammed Alowais from Saudi Arabia is a perfect example of this. He played a great World Cup being instrumental in ensuring his team’s win against Argentina, and keeping Mexico out of the next round with his performance in the last game of the group. Since he won’t be going on to the next round though, it doesn’t seem fair to include him on the list. Let’s go to the guys that did make the cut!
Shūichi Gonda – Japan
There’s no question that Japan has been one of the surprises of the World Cup. They were able to top a group that included Germany and Spain, by beating both of those teams. They made their life a bit more challenging by losing to Costa Rica. Throughout the group stage it’s clear that Shūichi Gonda has been key to the team’s success. He’s made key saves particularly in the games that they’ve won. Against Germany, he was able to wash away his errors particularly after committing a penalty, by consistently making decent saves.
I’m going to air my grievances out here when it comes to Shūichi Gonda. For me, he’s not a reliable goalkeeper that I would love to have between the sticks for my team. It’s true that he’s been able to build some confidence as the games have gone on. He looked real shaky in my opinion against Germany. That doesn’t mean that I take any credit away from the saves that he’s made at the tournament. What I feel that he’s a perfect example of is the World Cup goalkeeper syndrome. Memo Ochoa of Mexico has a lot of that. He’s someone who’s proven he can show up in big games. A lot of times that’s worth a lot more than having someone who is technically sound, but that you can almost guarantee will break in the big spots. Like David De Gea.
Yassine Bounou & Munir Mohand Mohamedi – Morocco
Morocco was a team that I felt coming into the tournament could surprise some people. Just based on the players that they were getting ready to field and where they played. Without a doubt Yassine Bounou or Bono was a big part of that. The Sevilla goalkeeper is one of the most consistent goalkeepers in LaLiga in my opinion. Oddly enough he was between the sticks when Morocco conceded their only goal of the tournament. Bono was part of the starting lineup, and sang the national anthem before letting the ref know that he wasn’t feeling well. Munir Mohand Mohamedi, stepped in and was able to pick up a clean sheet to win the game for Morocco.
This is a team that has only conceded one goal throughout the entire tournament. Bono is likely going to play between the sticks against Spain, and he may have to make more saves in that game than in the previous two games. Not to take anything away from the goalkeepers, but it’s been the Morocco defense as a unit that has truly helped both of them only concede that one goal against Canada. Against Spain Bono may need to use his skills to max. He’s a rather complete goalkeeper. Maybe not as spectacular as someone like Ter Stegen or Jan Oblak, but he’s solid across the board. The Spanish team will feature players that he’s using to seeing on a weekly basis, so there’s no adjustment needed there.
Andries Noppert – Netherlands
Here’s a goalkeeper that I have really liked throughout the tournament. The Netherlands have not exactly had a ton of options to choose from, at goalkeeper for a while now. Louis Van Gaal has not been reluctant to go out and find Dutch players in seemingly obscure teams. That’s exactly the case for the SC Heerenveen man Andries Noppert. He’s made some tremendous saves particularly down to that bottom corner of the net. He had a couple of similar saves against Senegal that allowed him to keep a clean sheet. That ultimately lead to the win for the Netherlands.
It was in the game against Ecuador though where he arguably had his best showing. Again with multiple saves to those bottom corners. I don’t love the Netherlands on dead ball fouls and corners. Those are the plays in which they’ve conceded goal throughout the tournament. The US is going to want to exploit those plays in their upcoming matchup. Between the sticks though Noppert has surprised a few people. The Netherlands may have loved the fact that they were put in a group with Qatar, Ecuador, and Senegal. They may look at their USA matchup favorably as well, but Noppert needs to be on his game if they want to come out on top Saturday!
Matthew Ryan – Australia
This was one of the guys that I had on my original list of the most underrated goalkeepers coming into the World Cup. 4 of the goalkeepers that I picked made the next round. Including Yann Sommer who was sick coming into the final group match, apparently. Anyway Ryan has proven my point so far. He did have to endure giving up 4 goals to France. That wasn’t an ideal start even though he can’t be blamed fully for some of the goals that he gave up that day. I’m including him here because Australia are going to need an inspired performance from him to outlast Argentina. I do believe that he can give Argentina some fits because they’ll play to his strengths.
He’s a goalkeeper who is very much a between the sticks keeper coming up in the British tradition. He’s a long keeper that may have to use that length to be able to get to shots by the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, and Lautaro Martinez. Australia’s success in that game could come down to Ryan’s ability to keep them in it. What Australia can’t afford is for the smaller forwards like Martinez or Alvarez to get behind them on a low cross. Those are going to be the key plays in the game for sure. From there if Ryan can make a few saves from shots outside the box and cut a few crosses this came can go long. That’s exactly what Australia are going to hope for.
Matt Turner – USA
Turner is another one of the guys that made my underrated list, and I have to say this again I still contend that the inclusion of Turner and the exclusion of Steffen sent the wrong message. As I said in the previous article though, that’s not an indictment of Turner. He’s been called upon to do a job, and he’s done it really well. I was concerned about his ability and even willingness to come out for crosses. He’s been known to play a bit too much right on the line. At least for my taste, and from what I’ve seen. Ultimately though he put all those concerns to bed with his performance against Iran. In that particular game he was very good in the air. So much so that most of the crosses that the Iranians sent in desperation didn’t create clear scoring opportunities.
There were also good saves in the Wales game, he looked solid against England as well. A lot of times that’s really what you can ask for. With a lot of these guys maybe we haven’t gotten that sense that they’re carrying the team. What they are doing is being reliable enough to the point where everyone on their team can feel very relaxed that they’re back there. That’s the case with Turner. He’s provided that sense of security. I feel more certain about him right now than I do about that two center backs. They’re coming into this next game having certainly done enough for the team, but they maybe haven’t been battle tested enough. They’re more of a concern than Turner for the USMNT at this point.
Wojciech Szczęsny – Poland – The Best Goalkeeper Of The First Round
There’s really little doubt in my mind as to who the best goalkeeper of the first round has been. Wojciech Szczęsny did a little bit of everything in the first round. His performance against Mexico may have been overshadowed by Ochoa’s penalty save. He had more work throughout the whole game though, so he probably was more deserving of the man of the match honors. He did the simple things right like cut a couple of frontal high balls that could’ve given him some trouble. When he was tasked with making saves between the sticks he was able to do so efficiently. That performance continued into the Saudi Arabia game. Poland also let the Saudi’s play in their middle of the field consistently and that lead to some serious chances that Wojciech Szczęsny sniffed out.
Perhaps his best performance though came in the only game in the first round that the Polish team lost. He blocked a Messi penalty kick that would’ve seen them go down in the first half. He then proceeded to make multiple saves throughout the game. Ultimately if he had conceded one more goal it was likely that Mexico would have advanced. Mexico was up 2-0 for most of the second half and was one goal away in their game or Poland’s to advance. Wojciech Szczęsny’s biggest claim to fame is that he kept playing. At times when you’re down in the scoreboard it’s easy to give up. Even if you know you’re playing for a better goal difference. Szczęsny kept playing, and kept making saves. That made all the difference.