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Which national team has the best goalkeepers at the moment?

Serbia v Brazil: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Serbia v Brazil: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Rupam Nag
ANALYST
Modified 26 May 2020
Feature
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Every position in football has overseen some notable- if not drastic- changes being introduced to how that particular position should be best played. The ever-improving standard of technology makes in-depth analysis of opposition teams all that more feasible.

Consequently, football has become more tactical than ever before. Every manager, along with his support team, is constantly trying to come up with new and innovative ways to play the beautiful game. They all have one common motive - to outsmart the opposition. Naturally, it has required managers to demand a little bit more from players in every position.

In this article, we will focus on the men who don the gloves between the sticks. One of football's most important and perhaps underrated positions, goalkeeping has always had a certain charm attached to it like none other. Much like a striker, a goalkeeper is often the difference between the winning team and the losing team.

In recent years, the belief that goalkeepers should be 'the first attacker' has enjoyed widespread popularity. Most top teams have realized that to excel today, they must have a goalkeeper who isn't just capable with his hands, but with his feet too.

Manchester United
Manchester United's legendary goalkeeper Van Der Sar was excellent with his feet

The concept of a 'ball-playing goalkeeper' or a 'sweeper-keeper' isn't new by any means. In fact, the first goalkeeper who was thought to have been of this mould was Gyula Grosics of Hungary's 'dream team' from the 1950s.

A more popular example might be Bruce Grobbelaar, whose ability to sniff danger and rush outside of his box to take matters into his own hands (or feet!) was vital to Liverpool's success in the 1980s.

Other goalkeeping icons like Fabian Barthez and Edwin van der Sar were very good with all four of their limbs as well. Having said that, there is no denying that the widespread following of this approach is recent, with almost every top-level goalkeeper handy with his feet these days, if not spectacular.

The most vital aspect of goalkeeping, however, remains shot-stopping. Handling, positioning and reflexes are still the most important qualities of a goalkeeper, with the ability to sweep confined to being at best a hugely desirable bonus.

A lot of characteristics of a goalkeeper are combined to determine his true quality. So, the question remains - which nation produces the best goalkeepers at the moment?

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The case for - Slovenia

Notable players - Jan Oblak, Samir Handanović

It is quite staggering that a nation of only two million people has managed to produce two of the greatest keepers of recent times. Statistically (and figuratively) speaking, Slovenia's Jan Oblak and Samir Handanović are 'one in a million'.

Handanović is a legendary figure both for club and country
Handanović is a legendary figure both for club and country

Inter Milan's legendary captain Samir Handanović is the fourth most capped Slovenian, winning 81 caps in an 11-year long international career that started way back in 2004. His most significant spell with the national team came in the 2010 World Cup, where Slovenia crashed out in the group stages despite losing just one game.

He retired from international football in 2015, after Slovenia failed to qualify for the Euro 2016. Little did the Slovenians know back then that they had another top keeper eagerly waiting to replace Handanović.

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Oblak has begun to feature regularly for the Slovenians only recently
Oblak has begun to feature regularly for the Slovenians only recently

Although he was handed his first cap well before Handanović's retirement in 2012, Oblak wouldn't feature extensively until after the Inter stopper hung up his boots.

Oblak's meteoric rise to stardom began around 2016, when he was promoted to first-choice goalkeeper at Atletico Madrid. He quickly established himself as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the world.

However, Slovenia weren't able to enjoy much of his services until recently, as he decided to focus mainly on his club duties. Now, he is the first name on the team sheet and is easily Slovenia's biggest star despite the presence of top professionals like Josip Ilicic.


The case for - Brazil

Notable players - Alisson Becker, Ederson Moraes, Neto

Brazil have always had that one standout goalkeeper in each period (including the likes of Claudio Taffarel and Julio Cesar) who went on to accumulate a large number of appearances for the Seleção, but never a host of top keepers at the same time.

Perhaps the one exception is the phase a few years on either side of 2000, where Dida kept out the legendary Rogerio Ceni from the national team. However, Brazil's manager Tite has a dilemma every time he has to name an eleven, with two world-class goalkeepers at his disposal.

More often than not, he has decided to give Liverpool's Alisson the edge, meaning Manchester City's Ederson has only 9 caps to his name.

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Brazil won the 2019 Copa America with Alisson as their first choice
Brazil won the 2019 Copa America with Alisson as their first choice

Another excellent goalkeeping option available to Tite is Barcelona's Norberto Neto, who has only featured once for Brazil. In most other nations, Neto would be a guaranteed starter, such is the quality of Brazil's top two options.

Both Alisson and Ederson have similar styles of keeping as well, excelling in distributing with their feet. In fact, both of them have lodged an assist in the Premier League! They're also quite young for goalkeepers, aged 27 and 26 respectively.

Regardless of who dons the gloves in the years to come, the Brazil faithful can rest assured that he will be difficult to beat!


The case for - Germany

Notable players - Manuel Neuer, Marc Andre ter Stegen, Bernd Leno, Timo Horn...

...Kevin Trapp, Oliver Baumann, Alexander Nübel, Florian Müller - the list keeps on going.

No national team is as stacked in one position as Germany are in the goalkeeping spot. The Germans have always produced some of the greatest shot-stoppers to ever play the game, starting from Bert Trautmann and Sepp Maier, to Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn.

Even today, they have two of the finest keepers on this planet in Neuer and Ter Stegen. The former has been appearing for Die Mannschaft for over a decade, and is closing in on a century of caps. Neuer is still very much Germany's go-to goalkeeper, much to the bemusement of many football fans, who consider the Barcelona goalkeeper to be a better option than the veteran right now.

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Arsenal
Arsenal's Bernd Leno would start for most nations - but not Germany!

Perhaps the biggest testimony to Germany's strength in the goalkeeping department is the fact that Bernd Leno, Timo Horn, Kevin Trapp and Oliver Baumann have combined to muster a grand total of 9 senior caps.

Evidently, the depth is ridiculous. On top of the talent already sidelined, Germany boast of up and coming goalkeeping stars like Alexander Nübel and Florian Müller, who will be raring to give their senior competition a run for their money.


The winner - Germany

To go with the nations already mentioned, there are a few others like France who have quality goalkeepers like World Cup-winning captain Hugo Lloris and Alphonso Areola, as well as youngsters like Mike Maignan and Alban Lafont.

Italy's Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia Perin and Salvatore Sirigu also make for good options. Belgium have two fine goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois and Koen Casteels, while Portugal can call upon Anthony Lopes and Rui Patricio.

However, it is nearly impossible to look anywhere beyond Germany. Their depth in the goalkeeping spot is uncanny, and previously unheard of.

Neuer managed a podium finish at the 2014 Ballon d
Neuer managed a podium finish at the 2014 Ballon d'Or, no mean feat for a goalkeeper
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Truly, Germany have a plethora of very capable men to throw between the sticks, and the opinion that they have the best goalkeepers among all national teams is hardly arguable.


Published 26 May 2020, 20:57 IST
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