The 10 Greatest Goalkeepers in World Cup History

Photo Credit: <a href="">Marcus Sümnick</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Courtesy of Marcus Sümnick

(FINNBAY-FTBpro) – London, 2 July 2014. As Mexico were defeated in the final sixteen of the World Cup by two late Duth goals, we said goodbye to a goalkeeper receiving rave reviews from all over the globe. Guillermo Ochoa has been one of the stand-out performers of the World Cup so far and despite a Mexico loss last night, still put in a performance of the highest quality.

After Mexico’s goalless draw with Brazil, head coach Miguel Herrera went on to describe his keeper’s display as the best World Cup goalkeeping performance he has ever seen.

He may not have progressed far enough in the tournament to write himself into World Cup history, so it’s time to have a look at the goalkeepers that did and who set the benchmark for Ochoa and co.

Here is the ten greatest goalkeepers in World Cup history.

1. Ricardo Zamora – Spain

Arguably the game’s first truly great goalkeeper, Ricardo Zamora was a part of Spain’s first ever World Cup squad in 1934, making a clear impact in the tournament and being named the best goalkeeper.

Brave, dependable and partial to a spectacular save or two in his time, Zamora laid down the benchmarks as to what it took to be a great goalkeeper.

Before the days of a first round group stage in the World Cup, Spain were thrown into a tough opening tie against Brazil. Zamora would be a constant thorn in Brazil’s side as the Spanish would go on to win 3-1.

Brazil were not yet the international force that they have been since 1950, but they had Leonidas leading the attack, a player who would go on to score 7 goals four years later in 1938.

He would only play three games in the 1934 World Cup, but continued to impress in the quarter-finals against Italy, forcing the eventual winners into a replay, before despite his best efforts, he conceded the only game in a 1-0 defeat.

2. Gordon Banks – England

If there was ever a footballer who had his career defined in one moment, it is Gordon Banks. With England’s defence of their World Cup trophy landing them a tough game against Brazil in the 1970 group stages, two fantastic teams came together in one of the most anticipated games in World Cup history.

Brazil were in control, demonstrating the prowess that would eventually win them the 1970 trophy, but they struggled to find their way past an inspired Banks.

It was one moment, when a Brazilian cross found a leaping Pele in the England box, that seemed destined to beat Banks and give Brazil a 2-0 advantage. As it so happened, the England stopper would defy the laws of gravity to claw the ball from behind him above the bar.

England would lose the game 1-0, but Gordon Banks wrote himself into history with one of the greatest saves of all time.

Four years before that fantastic save, Banks was between the posts as England went the whole way on home soil. In a tournament where Banks was named as the goalkeeper of the tournament, he further cemented himself as England’s greatest ever goalkeeper. A title never surpassed despite the efforts of Shilton, Seaman and Hart to name a few.

The Pele save might have been the defining moment of Banks’ career, but with or without it, the career of Banks was as great as they came.

3. Lev Yashin – Soviet Union

The greatest ever? Many certainly think so. From 1994-2006 FIFA named their best goalkeeper award the Yashin award, so they seemingly believed so too.

The 1958 World Cup’s best goalkeeper, he was also named in 1994, as the best goalkeeper in World Cup history, IFFHS named him as the best goalkeeper of the 20th century and he remains the only goalkeeper to ever win the Balon d’Or, doing so in 1963.

Yashin was the revolutionary figure behind the art of goalkeeping. He barked orders at his defence, used his box to collect crosses off of his line, and perfected the art of one-on-one goalkeeping.

‘The Black Panther’, as he was known for his reflexes, played in three World Cups from 1958-1966, and it was the 1958 tournament that truly endeared Yashin to the global audience. In the first globally televised World Cup, Yashin prevented a rout when the Soviet Union faced Brazil, making save after save to keep the score down to 2-0.

Yashin ended his World Cup career by captaining the Soviet Union to a fourth placed finish in 1966 and although brilliant goalkeepers have succeeded him down the years, Yashin, in the eyes of many, remains the best there ever was.

4. Oliver Kahn – Germany

Goalkeepers are often neglected when it comes to handing out general accolades, letting their attacking team-mates take the glory, but every so often a goalkeeper leaves the awards committee with no choice but to acknowledge their performance – in 2002 that man was Oliver Kahn.

After their dire performance at Euro 2000, Germany were still in a period of transition when they arrived in Japan and South Korea with hopes low, particularly after a 5-1 home drubbing to England in qualifying.

They improved but were nowhere near the level of performance required to reach a World Cup final. They did so largely in part to the form of Oliver Kahn.

Conceding only one goal in the group stage, Kahn would continue to prevent his opponents from scoring, keeping clean sheets in every knockout round until the final. Germany stumbled to 1-0 wins in all three knockout rounds, but progressed as Kahn shutout Paraguay, USA and co-hosts South Korea.

He took that form into the final which Brazil dominated, with only a Ronaldo brace sealing a fifth World Cup triumph for the Brazilians. Kahn, so impressive in the tournament won the Golden Ball, the only goalkeeper to have done so.

5. Dino Zoff – Italy

The modern Italians have been treated to the talents of Gianluigi Buffon for over a decade now, but before the Azzurri and Juventus could call on Buffon, his true predecessor was Dino Zoff.

Composed, dependable and highly likable, Zoff was an ever present for Italy after missing out on a starting berth in the 1970 World Cup.

His finest hour in an Italian shirt came during the 1982 World Cup. Italy started slowly with three draws in the first group stage, but had Zoff’s performances in large to thank for those draws not becoming defeats.

After coming through the second group stage as winners, they came up against the great Polish team of the early 1980’s. Boniek and co were left constantly frustrated as Zoff kept his sheet clean in his assured and calm manner, whilst the enigmatic Paolo Rossi scored two to secure a place in the final.

Zoff continued to impress in the final against the highly capable West Germans, leading his side to the crown with a 3-1 win. Zoff became only the second goalkeeper to captain his side to World Cup glory, after Gianpiero Combi (also Italy), as well as being the oldest player (40 years old) to captain a World Cup winning side, the latter still being a record.

6. Sepp Maier – Germany

Before Manuel Neuer, there was Oliver Kahn and before he, was Sepp Maier.

Bayern Munich have a rich history of talented German goalkeepers, but unlike Kahn and Neuer who were signed, Maier was there from the beginning until the end.

Like Bayern, Germany have also depended on these three talents with brilliant results. For Maier, his World Cup journey began in 1970 after playing second-choice in 1966. 1970 was a solid tournament for Maier, as Germany finished in third. But it was to be the 1974 World Cup in West Germany that Maier was at his best.

Franz Beckenbauer recalls that World Cup saying, ‘without Sepp, we would never have won the World Cup.’ A bold statement from the West German captain of their 1974 triumph.

A defeat to the East side of Germany aside, West Germany shouldered the pressure as hosts, storming their way to the final in Munich. The opponents, arch-rivals, the Netherlands.

The Dutch took an early lead through a Johan Neeskens penalty but as the Dutch went for the kill, Maier (playing in his home city) would keep Germany in the game with some vital saves.

The second-half would be an even finer display from ‘The Cat from Anzing’, as the Oranje tried in vain to pull things back after falling 2-1 behind. Maier was not to be beaten, handing West Germany the trophy and leaving the Dutch to wonder what might have been had Maier not been around.

7. Iker Casillas – Spain

Do not let the 2014 performance of Spain’s long-time number one create the picture of Iker Casillas. In 2010, Spain won the World Cup and they would not have done so without their captain.

We may have marveled at tiki-taka passing football four years ago and criticise it now, but for all it’s success in 2010, it returned very little in goals for Spain – eight in seven games to be exact.

After the group stages, Spain won their four knockout games 1-0 on route to their first World Cup, demonstrating Casillas’ importance to their triumph.

Possession may have been in Spain’s favour, but when he was called upon, he obliged in the finest fashion. Agile, a fantastic shot-stopper and a leader, there are few pros than cons to Iker Casillas.

It is those pros that have seen Casillas be number one for club and country since his early 20’s, and without him Spain would still be searching for their first World Cup.

With Arjen Robben having been played through on goal by Wesley Sneijder in the World Cup final, Casillas made himself big, standing his ground to tip Robben’s chipped effort wide of the post. Without that save, Holland would have been celebrating their first World Cup and not Spain.

Casillas may have faltered this year, but not before he cemented himself as arguably Spain’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

8. Jean-Marie Pfaff – Belgium

As Thibaut Courtois looks to keep dark horse Belgium’s hopes of World Cup glory alive by thwarting their opponents, he can look to Jean-Marie Pfaff as inspiration.

In 1982, Pfaff managed to keep a clean sheet against an Argentina side containing Diego Maradona, with the Belgians coming out 1-0 winners. Their journey was to end in the second group stage, losing to both the Soviet Union and Poland, but four years later Belgium and Pfaff were even better.

Fortunate to progress as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage, Belgium took their opportunity in their stride. The Soviet Union would once again be opponents and in a thrilling game in Leon, the Belgians would triumph 4-3 with Pfaff being man of the match in an incredibly attacking game.

Spain would follow, with the game going to penalties and Pfaff would be the hero of a nation, saving Eloy Oyala’s penalty. Belgium went on to win 5-4 on penalties.

Pfaff kept Belgium in that particular game, making multiple saves, frustrating Spain who had looked more likely to grab a winner. A place in the final never came, losing 2-0 to Argentina, but despite that and losing in the third-placed play-off to France, Pfaff had earned the accolade of being the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

9. Thomas N’Kono – Cameroon

Italians should feel indebted to Thomas N’Kono, because without the Cameroonian’s World Cup performances, Gianluigi Buffon may never have become a goalkeeper.

So in awe of N’Kono’s performances in 1990 that the Juventus and Italy stalwart decided to give goalkeeping a try. It worked out well and Buffon was so respectful of N’Kono he named one of his children Thomas as a thank you.

In 1982, N’Kono was the undoubted number one for the Indomitable Lions, as they exited at the group stage without losing a single game. N’Kono would impress as he only conceded one goal in three games, a goal coming in an unexpected 1-1 draw to eventual champions Italy.

Eight years later, N’Kono was not expected to be a starter for the national side, but he lined up against Argentina on their group stage opener, with Diego Maradona famously asking ‘What are you doing here?’, having known the goalkeeper after their time in La Liga.

What he was doing was having the performance of his life, stopping everything that came his way as Argentina tried in vain to breach N’Kono’s goal. He would continue to perform right up until the final whistle on their quarter-final defeat against England.

Never afraid to come off of his line to make the ball his own, aswell as his shot-stopping abilities helped make N’Kono one of the finest in World Cup history.

10. Gianluigi Buffon – Italy

From Thomas N’Kono to the man he inspired. Gianluigi Buffon is the last name on this list of these fantastic World Cup shot-stoppers.

Few goalkeepers have been as consistent and on top of their game quite like ‘Gigi’ Buffon has been. Still to this day, Buffon remains the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, when Juventus paid Parma £32.6m.

Vocal, decisive, acrobatic and with all the essential requirements to be a truly great goalkeeper, Buffon has perfected the art that few dare try.

Buffon represented Italy for his fifth World Cup in Brazil this summer – fourth as number one – and has been an ever-present since his first appearance in 2002.

Of course, his greatest moments for the Azzurri, came in 2006 when Italy won their fourth World Cup.

Buffon would concede only two goals in the tournament, one an own-goal, the other a Zinedine Zidane penalty in the final. Defensively, Italy were good but Buffon was superb, keeping Ghana, Czech Republic, Australia, Ukraine and Germany at bay with some superb displays.

In the final, Buffon made a fantastic save from a Zidane header that would have handed the French the 2006 triumph. However Buffon ensured it would not be the case and the rest is history.

2010 saw Buffon leave the tournament in their first game through injury and Italy went on to slump out at the group stages – make of that what you will.

This article was written by Daniel Jackson. For more soccer news, feel free to check out FTBpro.

Explore More