Passive goalkeepers creating problems

As the last line of defence, the men guarding the citadels are human after all, but are hardly forgiven for the mistakes they commit. Perfection is taken for granted and anything less is never accepted. By Nandakumar Marar.

It has been a World Cup of more lows than highs for goalkeepers. As the last line of defence, the men guarding the citadels are human after all, but are hardly forgiven for the mistakes they commit. Perfection is taken for granted and anything less is never accepted.

Spain’s Iker Casillas looked helpless in front of the rampaging Dutch strikers and England’s Joe Hart had no means to stop Mario Balotelli’s header in the game against Italy. The two teams — Spain and England — are now out of the World Cup and early signs indicate torrid times for the ’keepers in Brazil 2014.

However, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa has been a bright spot amidst this darkness, his outstretched hand stopping Neymar from scoring and silencing the yellow jersey-clad home fanatics in the stands.

What goes through the minds of these custodians in those fleeting seconds, as millions hold their collective breath? S. Brahmanand, ex-India goalkeeper, is better suited to give an answer and he readily admits that goalkeepers are distinct characters. “They are strange people and basically need to be thinkers. The best (goalkeepers) always expect the ball to be fired towards them as soon as the rivals get within striking range. Ochoa was so deeply involved that he was able to second guess Neymar and move towards the right to save his header,” Brahmanand says. “People have started comparing the save to Gordon Banks’ effort to deny Pele. Both saves, however, are different. Ochoa read Neymar’s body language and moved in anticipation but Banks just reacted to Pele’s header as it came down from a height.”

Casillas let in seven goals in Spain’s two group games and his two howlers against the Dutch will embarrass any World Cupper, the Arjuna Award winner feels. “Casillas may have been bogged down by negative thinking and that made him hesitant in one-to-one situations,” he says.

The former international, however, didn’t buy into the argument of captaincy or age holding the Real Madrid ’keeper back. “Established ’keepers can handle the pressure of captaincy,” he says. “Goalkeepers can play at the highest level for longer durations than outfield players and usually are matured leaders. Dino Zoff led Italy to a World Cup crown when he was 40.”

Supporting Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque’s decision to retain the below par Casillas against the Chileans, Brahmanand says: “In case of a seasoned player like Casillas, who is also the captain, managers tend to avoid drastic decisions for tough games and it was for Casillas to decide whether or not to make himself available for the game.”

Looking at the overall performances of goalkeepers so far, he felt the lot have been extra passive. “When balls are being floated in with such frequency, I thought goalkeepers should rush out and punch the ball away. The situation needs to be handled then and there. Hart should have tipped or punched the ball away before it reached Balotelli,” he explains.

Brahmanand, however, is happy at the introduction of goal-line technology, but is cautious against more experiments in football. “Justice is delivered instantly now when balls cross the goal-line. But long stoppages won’t help the game.”