First of all, let me preface this goalkeeper analysis with a disclaimer: it’s always easy to make saves sitting on the couch in your living room. Playing goalkeeper against the world’s best players, under the microscope of 7 billion watchful eyes, is a daunting challenge. Shots that may seem stoppable on TV are probably moving a lot faster (and in more directions) than you can imagine.
However, even at the risk of being hypocritical, it’s time to dissect the mistakes that some of the world’s most talented keepers have made over the last week. As gifted as these athletes are, even youth goalkeepers can learn from some of the basic technical breakdowns that have occurred.
Here are five important lessons that all goalkeepers in our club should take from the first week of action at the World Cup:
Lesson Number 1: If you’re scared of the ball, become a midfielder… or move to Slovenia and try out for their national team.
Watch this carefully and you’ll see the keeper backing up into his goal and actually turning his shoulders as Landon Donovan approaches the six-yard box—even before a shot is taken! He should be keeping his shoulders square to the ball. But he’s not. Look closely. That’s fear in his eyes. And that’s not a good quality for a goalie to exhibit…
Now, if you look at this photo below, you can see him actually begin to flinch and DUCK as the ball is coming toward him.
I don’t care if you’re playing in a U4 district game in Johnson City, if a forward shoots a ball toward your face, you keep your weight forward and your shoulders square, and you get hit with the ball. Make the save. Worry about the pain later—especially if you find yourself representing your country in the World Cup. Fear is not an option for a goalkeeper… at any level!
Lesson Number 2: Get your hands underneath low shots!!!
This lesson comes courtesy of much-maligned England goalkeeper Robert Green. The photo below illustrates Green’s hand position for a low ball. Notice how one hand is prepared to get underneath the ball, but the other is straight up and down. On low shots, if the hands are straight up and down behind the ball, the palms are exposed in a rigid position. It’s tough to cushion the force of a shot with your hands like that—and the likely result is a ball bouncing off the keeper.
To make matters worse for England, the ball ends up almost exclusively on Green’s right hand (the one with the rigid posture). That is why the ball bounces to the side and behind him. If his chest is lower, he can actually get his hands underneath the ball and trap it against his body.
Once again, note the hands being in a rigid position, straight up and down behind the ball, as opposed to getting underneath it.
On a positive note, here is Germany’s goalkeeper demonstrating the proper technique:
Note the hands getting under the ball and pinning it against the chest. In the United States, we call this a "front smother." Ideally, the arms should be a bit straighter (almost like skis)—but we’ll take this form over Robert Green’s any day. Keep an eye on Tim Howard if he faces a low ball in an upcoming game, as he is one of the best at executing this technique on hard low shots.
Lesson Number 2a: Whenever possible, get your body squarely behind the ball
As a general rule, a goalkeeper should always try get his or her body behind the ball AND get the ball centered in the middle of the chest.
Turning your shoulders to the side in any way can result in a rebound deflecting backwards off your body and into the goal. And that’s pretty embarrassing (see the photo of Robert Green above).
Algeria’s goalkeeper also gave up a soft goal as a result of turning his shoulders. Here’s a link to video of that goal:
This is a perfect example of how turning your shoulders can lead to a ball glancing off of you and into the goal. This keeper probably should have recognized that simply shuffling the feet would not be enough to get the body behind the ball. That’s how you know it’s time to dive!
A simple collapse dive to the side would have resulted in a save for the Algerian keeper. Of course, if you turn your shoulders while shuffling, even a simple collapse dive will end with you falling on your face. That can be quite painful, and worse, it’s also not effective for stopping the ball. Don’t dive like Superman, or like the North Korean goalkeeper pictured here:
DO NOT DIVE LIKE THIS:
Here’s Italian goalkeeper Buffon with an example of how to correctly dive on your side. This shot came in and skipped up a bit (just like the one to the Algerian keeper did), so Buffon was forced to deflect it to the side (note the use of open palms to deflect... not fists).
Also notice how he is on the side of his body, with the hands out in front. The back leg is up in the air for balance (yours doesn’t need to be quite as high as his is)--that prevents him from rolling on his back.
Ultimately, you can eliminate multiple problems by simply keeping your shoulders square to field when you are addressing a shot, and when you starting moving your feet. And by diving on your side, not your stomach.
Lesson Number 3: Lock Down Your Near Post (Censored in North Korea)
I could pick on the Slovenia goalkeeper again here (see photo above), but this one goes out to North Korea (even though this could never be read there).
I don’t mean to be harsh, but anything this North Korean keeper does, you probably shouldn’t be doing—including standing like this for corner kick. (And don’t get me started on his habit of two-hand punching shots that are right at him… that’s never a good idea, as the fists are not a reliable surface).
Of course, to be fair to him, the goalkeeper for the 1966 North Korea World Cup team was sentenced to 15 years in a hard labor camp after giving up 5 goals to Portugal (true story). So, he’s under more pressure than any keeper in South Africa.
To begin with, the keeper’s starting position is a mess. From this angle, the keeper should be about a half step off the near post (laterally) and have the shoulders facing the shooter. There should be no chance of the ball sneaking into the near side. That is your primary responsibility.
Below are the best still photos I could find on the internet. North Korea’s government has probably removed the rest.
Now, in these situations, IF the ball is crossed within four yards of the goal line, the keeper can take a small step and dive for it. IF it’s crossed further out, he can drop step and then shuffle across the goal. BUT we never guess that a cross is coming.
Play the shot first. Watch the ball (not the body). Protect your near post at all costs. And, be aware that skillful strikers like this one from Brazil will use the outside of the foot to try to sneak one in the goal, even from a tough angle.
Lesson Number 4: On breakaways, lead with the hands, not the feet!!
Okay, I’m nit-picking a bit on this one, but it’s an important lesson that even a big time keeper like Iker Casillas of Spain could benefit from hearing: Stop leading with the legs on a breakaway!
Casillas led with his feet on this breakaway against the Switzerland, and the awkward deflection off his legs trickled back behind him and led to a goal.
Leading with the hands allows for the possibility of controlling a rebound, or at the very least, getting a strong, flat surface behind the ball to prevent it from deflecting behind you.
The right hand could be a bit lower to the ground, to prevent the ball from sneaking under him in case the forward gets to it at the same time. But overall, that’s a solid collection of a breakaway-type save.
Lesson Number 5: On crosses, don’t start moving forward until you have properly assessed the flight of the ball
The Paraguayan goalkeeper had some trouble with a corner kick, and it cost his team a win against Italy. Check out the video here:
Watch him start moving forward without first recognizing where the ball is headed. It’s always harder to backpedal than it is to move forward. And nothing is worse than overrunning a cross and leaving the goal vacated. (Okay, maybe what Robert Green did is worse, but you get the idea).
Having the correct starting position is critical. On a corner kick, do NOT turn your shoulders directly to face the ball. Stand with your feet and shoulder slightly open to the field, as U.S. backup keeper Brad Guzan does in the photo below:
In this photo, the goal is behind Guzan and the corner is from the left side. Notice how Guzan is opened up slightly. He can see where the other team’s players might be running from, and can react in any direction.
He’ll take little tiny lateral chop steps until he has determined the flight of the ball (not big steps forward like the Paraguay keeper used). Ultimately, he won’t completely face the ball until just before he is about to catch it.
Ideally, the ball should also be caught as high as possible. Just because I feel like being a nice guy, here’s an example of an English goalkeeper doing something well (even if it’s not in a World Cup):
Notice how catching the ball at the highest point prevents forwards from having a chance to head it. Also, observe how he brings his outside knee up to protect his body. Young keepers, be sure to keep your eye on the ball as you reach up to catch it, and utilize the standard “W” technique for all high balls. The thumbs will be close together (although they don’t need to touch). The US coach illustrates this form below:
All right, that’s enough to digest for this week. Just remember, anyone who has ever played in the goal has made mistakes like those outlined herein. And anyone playing goalkeeper in this club will make a bad mistake at some point in the future. Take solace in the fact that even the world’s best goalkeepers can look silly from time to time. All you can do is learn from your mistakes and get ready to make the next save.
Until next week, train hard, fear nothing...
Final note: Some goalies are fond of sliding with the legs first on breakaways, but this is not ideal.