International tournaments are usually defined by moments of attacking brilliance and skill, and this World Cup has been no different. The likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and James Rodriguez have lit up Brazil, and it is no surprise that they have received most of the plaudits. Despite this, the 2014 World Cup will also be remembered for some fine goalkeeping. In no particular order, here are just five of the keepers who have impressed the most in Brazil.
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Neuer has taken the role of the sweeper-keeper to new extremes in Brazil. The German #1 surprised everybody against Algeria in the round of sixteen, taking up extremely high positions outside his box and dashing forward to deny the onrushing Algerian attackers throughout the match. Although many saw his actions as risky (he was almost caught out early on by Islam Slimani) his decision making was perfect, and he spared his defenders’ blushes on a number of occasions. Neuer’s shot-stopping has also been excellent, as demonstrated by the save he made against Karim Benzema in the final minutes of the quarter-final against France, and his distribution has been equally impressive. His arrogance can irritate neutrals, but he has undoubtedly been the best keeper of this tournament so far.
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
It was a fantastic tournament for Costa Rica, who finished top in a group containing Italy, Uruguay and England, and made it to the quarter finals of a World Cup for the first time in their history after overcoming Greece with ten men. This was in no small part down to Keylor Navas, who had an outstanding tournament. While players such as Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz were important in Los Ticos’ remarkable run, nobody was more influential than Navas, who at times kept Costa Rica in the competition. He was excellent against Greece in the round of sixteen, saving from point blank range on two occasions, but he will inevitably be remembered for his heroics in the penalty shootout which followed. He produced a great save against Theofanis Gekas with the score at 4-3, allowing Michael Umana to seal Costa Rica’s progress to the quarter finals with the next spot-kick. For all of their qualities, it is unlikely they would have got this far had it not been for Navas.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Considering Ochoa wasn’t even guaranteed to start for Mexico before this tournament started, he had a remarkable World Cup. He made a series of stunning saves against Brazil, including a fine, one-handed stop from a Neymar header which prompted comparisons with Gordon Banks’ save against Pele, which might just be the save of the tournament so far. Ochoa was on his way to PSG in 2011 before he failed a drugs test (it later turned out that he and other players had eaten contaminated meat) and he was subsequently snapped up by Ajaccio, where he became a hero. Ochoa is now a free agent, and one can’t help feeling that he will get his dream move to a top European club after his performances in Brazil.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Belgium had a solid if unspectacular World Cup given the expectations placed on them. They were rarely troubled, but when they were, Courtois was there to rescue them. In the final few minutes of extra time against the USA, for instance, the big Belgian made a brilliant, sprawling save at the feet of Clint Dempsey, and against Argentina he stood tall to prevent Lionel Messi from making it 2-0 late on in the match, demonstrating his composure and speed off his line. Courtois is less prone to mad dashes outside his area than Manuel Neuer and has less of an ego, perhaps giving him an edge over the German keeper.
Tim Howard (USA)
The USA are renowned for producing good goalkeepers, and Howard can perhaps lay claim to being the greatest of them all after his performances at this World Cup. Certainly he produced one of the best US goalkeeping performances of all time against Belgium, making a record number of saves (15) in a single World Cup match, and he was just as important against Portugal in the group stage. Although some of his flaws were exposed (he has a tendency to go to ground too early and his distribution can be dodgy), Howard was largely faultless, and his leadership was also vital in ensuring the USA reached the knockout rounds.