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Confederations’ Cup: Lessons Learnt 1

3rd July, 2013
"Do you have to blame it all on me?"

“Do you have to blame it all on me?”

Goalkeeping can be a thankless task

While this blog may have deepfelt misgivings about Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s (possibly fascist) political sympathies, there can be no doubt that not only he has been one of the best keepers to have emerged during the last decade and a half, he has also consistently been one of the best for almost the entire length of that period. His absence through injury was keenly felt in 2010 when South Africa hosted the World Cup, as his deputy Federico Marchetti, a usually excellent keeper in his own right, seemed to suffer an acute attack of stage fright, compounded no doubt by the Swiss-cheese performances of the overly ripe (and possibly slightly mouldy) Fabio Cannavaro in front of him. Buffon’s cooler head might have settled a nervy Italian team just enough to see them into the knockout rounds.

Buffon has come in for no small amount of criticism after some of his displays in the Confederations’ Cup—particularly for his performance against Brazil in the group stages, where he seemed slow to get to the ball, and even when he did reach it he failed to palm it out of the reach of the opposition.

Nevertheless this is the same Buffon whom Italy had to thank for what was a largely undeserved clean sheet against the Czech Republic in Prague on the 7th of June. It was largely Buffon’s agility and experience that allowed the Azzurri to return home with one point rather than none.

The sad truth is that a goalkeeper is seldom afforded the same tolerance granted infield players to ride out bad spells. With no one behind him to mop up, the goalkeeper has to be perfect, particularly in matches where his attack-minded players can’t be relied upon to carve open a great number of chances.

Spain’s Iker Casillas, three years Buffon’s junior but with a reputation that cedes little to the Italian’s, might be wondering how his life would be different if he played in same position as his national team-mate Fernando Torres. Torres’ struggles during the latter period of his time at Liverpool and his subsequent move to Chelsea have been well-documented, but time and again the striker has been given the benefit of the doubt. How Casillas would love to enjoy the same latitude.

Perhaps Casillas shouldn’t have been entrusted with the number one jersey so soon after his recovery from a long-term injury and with so few games under his belt since regaining his fitness. There are suggestions that the Spain coach Vicente del Bosque may have restored Casillas to the starting line-up in order to rehabilitate the keeper’s confidence after a protracted battle of wills with Jose Mourinho, until recently Casillas’s manager at Real Madrid.

When goalkeepers have a torrid spell the results can be disastrous for them. Edwin van der Sar’s trials and tribulations at Juventus saw him spend several years restoring his fractured reputation at Fulham before Manchester United made him their number one.

Buffon and Casillas surely still count amongst the world’s best goalkeepers, and both players must have sufficient mental fortitude to withstand the brunt of the force of the slings and arrows being launched in their respective directions. Should both perform well for their clubs in the coming season, expect to see them both start for their nations in Brazil next summer as well, as, in that most exposed of positions, the strength of mind to recover from the shots that go in is almost as important as the ability to keep them out in the first place.

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