The impact of a good goalkeeper or a good save cannot be overstated. It can mean the difference between a World Cup trophy or a second place medal, just ask Spain’s Iker Casillas, whose incredible string of saves during the 2010 World Cup final culminated in his country’s first ever World Cup.
HERE ARE FIVE WORLD CUP GOALIES WHO COULD CHANGE THE HISTORY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE TEAMS:
DAVID DE GEA (SPAIN)
David De Gea’s role hasn’t always exclusively consisted of thwarting attempts from top strikers. In fact, his adept ability to keep the opposing team off of the scoresheet may stem from his ability to get inside the head of a goal scorer – because he used to be one. Until the age of 14, De Gea stared as an outfield player for Colegio Castilla, a private school in Calzada, Spain, where his coaches lauded his love for the game of soccer.
While Spain’s goaltender primarily played the role of a striker at school, he also doubled as a goaltender for his local club of La Escuela De Futbol Atletico Casarrubuelos – an affiliate of Atletico Madrid. Eventually, De Gea’s perseverance and hard work paid off, and he was recruited to Atletico Madrid’s academy – a move that would spawn a pro career – at the age of 14.
In an article written by Adam Crafton for the Daily Mail, De Gea’s childhood teammates praised his overall athleticism, and knack for both tennis and basketball at a young age. That Athleticism will surely be called upon during the World Cup.
Recently, De Gea, the No. 1 goaltender for Manchester United has been on everyone’s list in the “best goalie in the world” conversation. With big shoes to fill after Iker Casillas’ departure from the team, De Gea has stepped up to the occasion wonderfully. The Spanish goalie has won his first ever Premier League’s Golden Glove this season after keeping an outstanding 18 clean sheets and is in the best form of his life prior to what may be the biggest challenge of his career in Russia.
KEYLOR NAVAS (COSTA RICA)
Not long after he began playing soccer in his hometown of Perez Zeldon, Costa Rica, Keylor Navas had his longterm future mapped out. Even though his career had just begun, he not only knew that he wanted to be a goaltender but also that he eventually wanted to star for Real Madrid.
Navas’s ascension to one of the world’s top clubs has been attributed to his intense focus and passion, and the star netminder has also pointed to his religious faith in helping him navigate trials which included leaving his hometown at a young age to pursue soccer. A 2017 film “Hombe de fe” (Man of Faith) recently documented Navas’ rise from humble beginnings to star status.
While Navas’ arrival to Real Madrid in 2014 was full of doubts, borderline controversy, as he was signed on from Levante, a club that often flirted with the relegation zone. Four years later and Navas would be a shoo-in in any of the top clubs in Europe.
Keylor produces his best performances in big games, such as El Clasico versus Barcelona and Champions League finals, with three Champions League medals to show for it.
ALISSON BECKER (BRAZIL)
Known as just Alisson by futbol fanatics, Becker, like so many other great soccer talents, left his home at a young age (10) and joined Internacional’s youth academy in 2002. Eleven years later, the Novo Hamburgo native made his professional debut for Internacional where he appeared in 100 matches before transferring to Roma.
The Brazilian goalie is now on his way to becoming a household name after a string of incredible performances with his club AS Roma. Alisson being mentioned in reports linking him to teams such as Real Madrid and Liverpool for possible transfer. Alisson’s specialty is one-on-one saves and last-minute saves from difficult to reach spots. While his career with the national team is only starting (24 appearances) he will nevertheless be the starting goalie in Russia.
THIBAUT COURTOIS (BELGIUM)
Thibaut Courtois’ path to soccer, and specifically goalkeeper, was not immediate. The lanky Belgian goaltender’s first sport was volleyball, and as detailed by The Guardian’s Kristof Terreur in a profile on Courtois, he was uncoordinated and an “accident waiting to happen as a young boy.”
While Courtois eventually informed his parents that he preferred soccer to volleyball – a sport where his sister now stars on the international stage – he wasn’t given his first test between the pipes until he was 9 years old. In a tournament for his youth club, Racing Genk, Courtois was taken from his position of left-back and thrown between the pipes, only to be voted goaltender of the tournament.
Following the triumph, Courtois battled for his chance at the number one spot on Racing Genk’s top team, and when given the opportunity, he led the squad to a league title. His success during the season immediately caught the attention of Premier League clubs and sparked his professional and international career.
Belgium’s meteoric rise to fame in recent international play is in part thanks to a golden generation of players, Courtois being one of them. The Belgian goalie is one of the most reliable and consistent goalies around. Courtois has twice won the Zamora trophy with Atletico Madrid in La Liga and also won the Premier League Golden Glove with Chelsea during the 2016-17 season. Courtois’ heroic performance during the 2014 World Cup helped his country reach the quarterfinals, where they lost against Argentina.
MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN (GERMANY)
Detailed in a piece penned by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen himself for The Players Tribune, Ter Stegen’s start in goal resulted from a bloody nose.
Similar to De Gea, Ter Stegen was previously a striker, stating that, “I loved scoring goals. I played to score goals. It’s what made me happy.”
That would all change when his teammate and goaltender for Ter Stegen’s youth team of Borussia Mönchengladbach incurred a bloody nose mid-game, and Ter Stegen was the only other player who would agree to go into the net.
After seizing the goaltending job for Mönchengladbach’s senior team and then ascending to the club’s professional team, Ter Stegen then signed with Barcelona FC following 18 years with his hometown team.
Entering the World Cup, the German’s ability with the ball at his feet and his vision set him apart from the rest of the goalies on this list. Ter Stegen is so comfortable on the ball during high-pressure situations he could easily pass off as a midfield player. He often plays the sweeper-keeper role and has played a huge role in Barcelona’s current unbeaten season (36 games and counting).
With only one match left to play, Ter Stegen is on his way to claiming the award for best goalie in La Liga, a decent point of reference for what to expect of him in Russia 2018.