Hubert Lawrence | Keepers star in Russia
A riveting World Cup ends on Sunday, and even though a big team like France is in the final once more, no one can say for sure what the result will be. Russia, host of this football extravaganza, has seen too many surprises for anyone to be sure.
Goalkeepers have played a huge part in changing the course of the tournament. Hugo Lloris preserved France's 1-0 lead over Uruguay in the round of 16 with a full-length save on the stroke of half-time. He extended himself to snuff out a swirling Eden Hazard left, foot drive in the semi-final against Belgium as well. Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic out-saved the dynamic Dane Kasper Schmeichel in the penalty shoot-out in the round of 16 and fought off injuries to do the same against Russia in the quarters.
Against Denmark, he matched the World Cup record of three saves in a shoot-out and added another against Russia. To me, he was simply the best player on the field.
The ousting of Brazil by Belgium is a prime example of how important sound goalkeeping is to a big side. Belgian giant Thibaut Courtois denied the rampaging Brazilians with nine saves, some being absolutely brilliant. Despite Belgium being good all over the park, Courtois was Man of the Match. When that happens, you just know.
Lloris, who was Man of the France/Belgium Match, Jordan Pickford, who took the award for his performance in England's quarter-final win over Sweden, and Subasic are worth their weight in gold. Defenders feel more secure with such experts guarding the net behind them.
In 2014, there were some who felt that Manuel Neuer, the German sweeper-keeper, was the best player at the World Cup in Brazil. Not only did he make important saves, but he redefined the position with his willingness to operate like an extra defender, sweeping away danger outside of the penalty area. The honour went to Lionel Messi, whose Argentina lost to Neuer's Germany in the final.
This time around, Germany went out of the World Cup early. Neuer himself came back from injury too late to be sharp, and his last act was an ill-considered outfield foray against South Korea. Nevertheless, with the absence of an individual star like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo enduring to the latter stages of the tournament, Lloris, Pickford or Subasic might be in the running for the big award.
That would be unusual since goalkeepers seldom attract such honours. In fact, the only stopper who has won the award was Oliver Kahn of Germany in 2002.
Other candidates include Subasic's teammate Luka Modric - the Croatian midfield general - and Brazilian Neymar, who leads the World Cup in chances provided to teammates.
Yet, if Lloris makes more big saves AND captains France all the way to the World Cup, as Dino Zoff and Iker Casillas did for Italy in 1982 and Spain in 2010, respectively, he will be hard to ignore.
- Hubert Lawrence watched the 1970 World Cup on black and white television.