Petr Cech’s heroics against Bayern Munich helped Chelsea win their first ever Champions League titleWinning a penalty is a cause for celebration for most of the teams as it presents an opportunity for the team to score a goal with only the keeper to beat from 12 yards out. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well, it’s definitely not in most cases. If the team possesses a certain Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure or Eden Hazard it might be an easier proposition but even then it is a daunting task. What makes the penalty even more harder is the man between the sticks. There exists a certain breed of goalkeepers who are considered specialists when it comes to saving penalties. These specialists have different techniques and methods to upset the rhythm of the player who taking penalties. Remember the mind games and the jelly legs of Jerzey Dudek in the 2005 Champions League final penalty shootout? With all his trickery, Dudek managed to keep out the well-established unit of AC Milan. Over the years there have been plenty of keepers who have left a mark on the game with their ability to save penalties in massive situations. These keepers research, practice and study the opponents with the hope of saving a penalty whenever the opportunity arises.We look at goalkeepers who have had the best records in terms of shutting out penalties.
#5 Kevin Trapp - Eintracht Frankfurt
The 23-year-old German shot stopper has made quite a name for himself with tremendous ability in front of goal. Trapp’s biggest strengths lie in his ability to anticipate and save top corner or bottom corner shots.
Reflexes and agility are his key strengths which make him such an important asset, especially when it comes to facing penalties. If not for a certain Manuel Neuer, he would definitely have been making first team appearances for the national team.
The Eintracht keeper moved to sixth position in Bundesliga’s all time penalty saving rankings with his current stats standing at six saves out of 15 penalties taken – a 40% success ratio. His technique in facing penalties is simple and to remain as composed as possible.
Trapp recently talked about his mantra, “I decide which corner I am aiming for before the kick is taken, and then go through with it.”
#4 Kenneth Vermeer - Feyenoord
The little known Dutch goalkeeper is quite a shot stopper. Not in the same mould as the other keepers on this list in terms of overall goalkeeping aspects, but when it comes to facing penalties he can hold his own. Over the past few years, he has become one of the hottest prospects as he has been able to replicate his brilliance in saving penalties.
From 2012 to 2014, Vermeer faced seven penalties during his most successful stint at AFC Ajax. He managed to shut out five in the Eredivisie, one in the UEFA Champions League and another in the Dutch Cup.
While tackling a penalty Vermeer tends to make his huge frame even more imposing in front of goal. He intimidates opponents with his imposing presence and taking his time before the penalty kick. He also doesn’t commit too early which allows him to more or less make the save.
#3 Mickael Landreau - Retired
What would be the best way for a goalkeeper to announce his arrival on the big stage? Make a world-class save, thwart opposition strikers or just make saves that would win you the match. Landreau went one step further by expertly blocking a penalty on his Nantes debut and aged just 17 years.
Penalties have been the biggest theme of Landreau’s life with the exceptional shot-stopper denying some of the best players from the spot. Any opponent who faced Landreau knew that if it were not for the corners, the expert Landreau would save it easily.
His most memorable penalty save would be the one where he tempted Paris's Ronaldinho by standing just two meters from his left-hand post in a French League Cup tie; the Brazilian took the bait and Landreau dived to his left to make an easy stop.
#2 Samir Handanovi - Internazionale Milano
Standing at 6’5, Samir Handanovi can be intimidating in front of goal, especially when you are penalty taker. One of the most improved goalkeepers in Europe, Handanovi has become a household name in Italy due to his penalty saving exploits. He held a unique record of saving six consecutive penalties in all competitions. Yes, you read it right, it’s not a typo.
Despite his imposing figure, the Slovenian has a calm, composed presence in front of the goal which is combined with razor sharp reflexes and an uncanny ability to read his opponent’s body language. The biggest attribute of all is his ability to have an idea where the ball is going to be placed.
All these characteristics put together makes him an ideal candidate for saving penalties. An ability to stay on his feet and rush off his line are his strengths which has helped him achieve 20 penalty saves in his time in Italy.
#1 Diego Alves - Valencia
A serial killer instills fear in people’s minds and the same can be said when the rest of the footballers hear the name of Diego Alves. He has made a reputation for himself with his exploits in front of goal when it comes to saving penalties. Getting a penalty against Valencia, especially against Alves, is no longer a cause for celebration for other La Liga sides.
Alves has let in only 19 penalties from the 39 he has faced, a stat which no goalkeeper has matched in a quarter of a century nor has anyone boasted of such a high percentage.
His reflexes, hours dedicated in practicing, time spent on studying opponent’s strengths or just his reputation of being the wall in front of goal – everything seems to be working in his favour. He has a habit of winding up opponents, taking his time and waiting as long as possible before committing himself. If his complete approach is not enough, he also has an image of Our Lady of the Aparecida which sits by his goal which might be another reason for his penalty saving prowess.
"It's great that players fear taking penalties against me," said Alves on his remarkable exploits. "I try to wait as long as I can before committing, and put doubt in the taker's mind. And by contrast, I never have any doubts."