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Pickford the standout in 'World Cup of Goalkeepers'

ANALYST
Feature
899   //    11 Jul 2018, 12:27 IST

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Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris could both be really happy with their performance in last night's energy-sapping semi-final, this, despite contrasting fortunes on the night; one that ended in exultation for the Frenchman and in disappointment for the Belgian.

Courtois, who was amazing against Brazil in the quarter-final, was again instrumental in keeping the score to 0-1 as his team burst forward to get the equalizer after France had taken the lead through Samuel Umtiti.

Lloris has been a vital cog in France's progress to the final, making crucial saves in both the quarter-final against Uruguay and in the semi-final, keeping out Toby Alderweireld's left-footed drive and Axel Witsel's searing long-ranger to propel France to a historic victory.

Goalkeepers to the fore

There have been some wonderful goals in this World Cup but the 'keepers have, well and truly, had their moment in the Sun. Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican shot-stopper, resurfaces every four years to put in stellar performances for his national side. He was amazing against Germany in that famous 1-0 victory and kept Brazil out for long stretches in the 2nd round defeat.

Igor Akinfeev, the veteran Russian goalie, turned back the clock to become a colossus in front of the sticks during the host's epic run to the quarterfinals. His performance in the penalty shootout against former champions Spain was the stuff of legends.

However, Akinfeev's Russia was trumped in a marathon quarter-final by Croatia where another goalkeeper battled injury and fatigue to come out as the hero. Danijel Subasic had already impressed the world with his canny saves against Denmark in a previous penalty shootout. He kept the resurgent Russians at bay in extra time, thereby keeping Croatia in the Cup and then standing tall in the resulting penalty shootout.

Besides Subasic, Danish 'keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the son of the legendary Peter Schmeichel, has also earned plaudits for his gallant showing.

All eyes on Pickford

Courtois had once famously said that Jordan Pickford, the Everton custodian, was not tall enough to be a truly world-class goalkeeper. He must be ruing those words now as the England No.1 has gone from strength to strength.

Pickford has been the 'keeper to watch out for' in this World Cup for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, no one really gave him a chance, no one expected him to be a source of such strength for England as the last line of defense.

Secondly, his shot-stopping has only improved as a young England team, bereft of the baggage of expectations and playing some nimble football, got into the easier half of the draw and made the most of their chances, progressing past Colombia and then disposing of a sturdy Sweden team comfortably.

The curse of the shootout

Perhaps the save of the tournament was made by the young shot-stopper in the tense quarter-final shootout against Colombia. Mateus Uribe had gone for the roof of the net and the goalie jumped up with agility to parry it with a single hand as England overcame the curse of the shootout that has been eliminating them from major tournaments since the 1990 Italy World Cup.

Countless jokes and even research tomes had been written about England's Achilles heel, shooting from the spot. Even against Colombia, Jordan Henderson had had his shot stopped and the specter of past failures reared its ugly head, then Pickford single-handedly resurrected England's campaign and exorcised those historic demons.

Is it coming home?

He was in imperious form against Sweden, making three vital saves as Harry Kane and Co. marched on to the semi-finals by keeping a clean sheet. England rode on two handsome headed goals by Harry Maguire and Dele Alli, but without Pickford's interventions, the result could easily have gone the other way.

The expectations back in England, the purveyors of the modern game, have risen to fever pitch. Can Gareth Southgate's young brigade finally bring back the Cup to England? Well, they would need Pickford to continue his gargantuan displays, especially with the silky skills of Luka Modric, the thrust of Ivan Rakitic and the firepower of Mario Mandzukic up against them in an intriguing semi-final. Also facing them will be Subasic who is in the form of his life in what promises to be a battle of goalkeepers as well.

Croatia's Training Session
The Croatians are formidable opponents.
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