Euro 2012 – a look at the array of quality goalkeepers in Group C

**BET £10, GET FREE £20 ON EURO 2012 AT PADDY POWER – CLICK HERE**

It may not be as utterly ruthless as the competition’s group of death, but Group C is another tricky one, with several permutations that would surprise, but not necessarily shock. It’s also similar in terms being packed with an abundance of goalkeeping talent. Here’s the run through:

Croatia
Whilst they’re littered with famous names further up the pitch, Croatia lack a goalkeeper of international renown.

There is no doubt however about Slaven Bilic’s first choice however and that honour goes to Stipe Pletikosa (33). The vastly experienced custodian will most likely reach the 100 cap mark in the next 12 months and he has been the pick since the 2006 World Cup. His reflexes, agility and speed are all strong points. Early on in his career, he was considered vulnerable under the high ball. He has improved this area of his game, but doesn’t command the aerial battles with the confidence you’d expect of a 6′ 4″ keeper.

Another issue could be his tendency to parry rather than catch. It’s not a fatal flaw – especially since he has the happy knack of directing his saves away from danger – but you’d rather a keeper who catches the ball and takes command when the option is available. His club career has largely been one of almost breaking into Europe’s elite, but falling short. He had a loan spell at Tottenham but didn’t feature in the league. He was close to a move to Celtic, but it fell through and now he’s playing for Rostov in the Russian Premier League.

All of Croatia will be praying for Pletikosa’s good health, but that’s more down to the inexperience behind him than a lack of ability. Danijel Subašić is the second choice and he’s a talented young goalkeeper. His strong suits are agility, reflexes and bravery in one on one situations. Other than minimal international experience, there’s little else that would overly concern you. Plus he takes a mean free kick, going very Rogerio Ceni for Monaco earlier this season. He won’t get dibs on one for the international team, but it’s nice trick to have in your locker.

Ivan Kelava is the ‘one for the future’ of the three. The 24-year-old has yet to make his senior international debut and despite being very talented and capable, many will be hoping he’s not called into duty over the next couple of weeks.

Ireland

Shay Given’s injury problems has dominated Ireland’s build-up to Euro 2012. At 36, age does seem to be catching up with him a bit, but equally I think these problems can be traced back to that season he spent on the bench behind Joe Hart. Later on in a career, a goalkeeper’s body gets used to taking a certain amongst of abuse. When that stops for a while, it’s hard to restart it and I think that explains the variety and frequency of Shay’s niggles. He’s still a quality keeper however and his lack of aerial presence is compensated for by the fact his defenders know they have to deal with vast majority of the crosses themselves. Some see it as a weakness, but having played with Richard Dunne for so long, I think it’s a strength and there have been relatively few mix-ups down through the years.

Keiren Westwood is the man who will step in should Given’s injuries flare up at the tournament. He’s agile and got great reflexes, they only issue is a lack of experience at the highest level. He’s slowly but surely building that up at Sunderland.

David Forde of Millwall is the third choice option. He’s been a regular in Trapattoni squads for the last twelve months and if called upon, shouldn’t have too many problems. He has been known to make the odd poor decision during this club career, but he’s far from a calamity keeper and will no doubt add to his haul of two caps in the future.

Italy
With the Italy camp in apparent crisis, one constant is the rock-solid presence of Gianluigi Buffon. He struggled with injury in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, but got a full season under his belt and was immense as Juventus claimed their first league title since 2003. You know what you’re going to get with Gigi. He offers leadership, calmness, agility and authority. There may be an occasional mistake, but he bounces back strongly every time and he truly is one of the all time greats of goalkeeping. With 114 caps to his name, the captain is a huge part of the team and if they’re to defy the gloomy predictions with an extended run in the tournament, he’ll need to be at his best.

Morgan De Sanctis is second in command, but has limited experience of international football. He has been in Buffon’s shadow for much of his career and at the age of 35 has just 5 caps to his name. He’s a good keeper however and if called upon will perform well. He has the tendency to do something ill-advised on occasion, but by and large he’s dependable and does the basics with authority.

Salvatore Sirigu is the eventual successor to Buffon. The 25 year old joined Paris Saint Germain last summer and became a firm favourite with the club’s vocal support. His ability and reactions are top quality and his air of calm authority does have a similarity to the great Buffon. He’s unlikely to see any game time at Euro 2012, but his time will come at future tournaments.

Spain

For the third tournament in a row, Spain go into it with the strongest goalkeeping division – possibly of all time. Rarely has there been such and abundance of riches to choose from. In Casillas, Reina and Valdes they have three goalkeepers who would walk into most international teams, but beyond that there are another two or three high quality keepers who are knocking on the door to get into the squad; David de Gea and Diego Lopez being the two most obvious candidates.

There’s not much more hyperbole you can heap on Iker Casillas. He is the best in the world. I’ve said it before, he’s not perfect, but he rarely makes mistakes and when he does, he almost instantly makes amends. His command and control of his penalty is a hugely under-rated weapon for Spain. He cleans up with such authority, it often slips by unnoticed, but in doing so, he stamps out potential danger with the minimum of fuss.

Pepe Reina wasn’t at his best for large parts of the season at Liverpool. What was happening in front of him didn’t help. Erratic defending and Jekyll and Hyde performances elsewhere on the team made life very difficult, but Reina contributed superbly. If called upon, Spain should have no fears. He very presence in the squad ensures Casillas can’t take anything for granted and that’s no doubt partially why San Iker has maintained such high standards for the national team.

Victor Valdes is a curious player. At times it looks like his ball skills wouldn’t look out of place in the Barcelona midfield, but then he does something poorly judged in the course of his goalkeeping duties to make you question him. He’s the perfect goalkeeper for the Barcelona system, operating as auxiliary sweeper and passing the ball around with accuracy. The national team role is different and that’s why he’s at the bottom of the pecking order. When it comes to the bread and butter stuff of goalkeeping, Valdes isn’t bad, just not as good as the two ahead of him. Still though, he’s not a bad third choice goalie to have in any squad.

**BET £10, GET FREE £20 ON EURO 2012 AT PADDY POWER – CLICK HERE**

Manuel Neuer is the world’s best

Manuel Neuer

There’s many different ways of deciding who is the best goalkeeper in the world. Some value current form over long term reliability, whilst others are prepared to keep the faith for much longer. I try to do both and with that in mind here’s my Goalkeeper World Rankings for April.

1. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
It’s a simple pick right now. He’s been excellent since arriving in Bayern Munich and his performance on Wednesday night against Real Madrid highlighted his development. He made some excellent penalty saves, but it was his leadership and authority that was most encouraging for me. His ability has always been obvious, but now he’s got the experience to know when to take command of situations and when to take a step back, he’s reaching his potential.

2. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
I’m a big believer in Iker Casillas. He was a little bit shaky by his high standards on Wednesday night in the Champions League semi-final, but he still saved a penalty in the shoot-out and made some important interventions in open play. As ever, when he makes a mistake or doesn’t get something quite right, he bounces right back up and it rarely costs his team a goal.

3. Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
Buffon has been one of my favourites for a long time and given how Juventus are doing in this season’s Serie A, he has to be included. They’ve the league’s best defensive record, conceding just 18 goals in 35 games. It’s not all down to Gigi, but he’s certainly played his part. After injury trouble in the last couple of years, it’s great to see the agility is still there and the reflexes, calmness and leadership make him one of the world’s best.

4. Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
It’s been a great year for goalkeepers in the Premier League, but I still rate Hart as the best all-rounder. He was voted in as the goalkeeper in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and I wouldn’t argue with that. He’s incredibly mature and he’s improved his decision-making considerably over the last twelve months or so.

5. Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
It’s been another difficult season for Lyon, but Lloris comes out of it with big credit. Agile, ultra-reliable and still young, I’m a big fan and there’s more to come. Every time summer rolls around, the speculation liking him with a move somewhere seems as common as the smell of barbecues. Spurs are reportedly looking at him as a replacement for Brad Friedel and he’d be a great addition to the Premier League. Wherever he heads, I’m sure he’s destined to be an even bigger star than he is now.

After the couple of weeks Chelsea have had, it’s impossible not to give Petr Cech a mention. He had to be immense if Chelsea were to have any chance of ousting Barcelona and he delivered big time. He’s definitely on the fringes of my list.

In his first full season as Arsenal’s #1 Wojciech Szczęsny has proven himself as reliable, unflappable and truly world-class. Second in the PL behind Hart in my opinion, it’ll be great to see how those two develop over the coming years.

It was also hard to leave out Michel Vorm. He’s had a fantastic season for Swansea although he won’t be happy with conceding four against Wolves over the weekend. He’s got top class reflexes and he’s amazingly agile. He’s definitely one of the best in the Premier League this season.

Ali Al Habsi has had a fantastic season for Wigan too. He made one absolutely world class save against Arsenal and those contributions are crucial for a team like Wigan. If that goes in, Arsenal probably come back and win the game and all of sudden there’s no amazing run of results and they’re going down. He’s been doing things like that all season and he deserves an honourable mention.

I’ve also been impressed by Kiko Casilla for Espanyol. He’s made a few mistakes lately and he get dropped, which set him back. He’s still some way from being in my top five, but he looks like he’s heading in the right direction and I look forward to seeing how he develops next season.

Happy Birthday Dino Zoff

Italian goalkeeping legend, Dino Zoff turns 70 today. England fans may remember him most from one remarkable night in Wembley when he pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep the scores level before one Fabio Capello scored the visitor’s winner near the end.

He played over 100 games for both Mantova and Napoli, but it was at Juventus where he flourished. Ironically, Juve had rejected him on the grounds of a lack of height in his early teens, but a growth spurt saw him get his chance as a professional, a career than eventually saw him return to the club. He stayed with the Old Lady for 11 years, winning six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias and one UEFA Cup.

His international career was bookended by two remarkable triumphs. It seems almost unthinkable these days, but he made his Italian debut at the quarter-final stage of Euro 68, a tournament they went on to win. In 1982, at the age of 40, he was captain as Italy emerged from a period of turmoil to claim the World Cup for the third time, his performances earning rave reviews in the process. Between 1972 and 1974, he also found time to set an international football record of going 1142 minutes without conceding a goal.

He wasn’t a goalkeeping pioneer in the same ilk of Lev Yashin. He didn’t break new ground with a new style or philosophy. What he was more simple – he raised the bar. He improved the standards all round, showed what a top class goalkeeper could do and gave us a taste of what was to come. It’s a standard that goalkeepers the world over have be aspiring towards ever since, sometimes with success, sometimes less so.

Happy birthday Dino. And many more too.

Here’s a mega-mix of some of his best saves.

Newcastle Form Fires Krul Into World’s GK Elite

Tim Krul

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my World Goalkeeper Rankings and with 2011 drawing to a close, I wanted to round-off the year by revising my list to take into account some interesting developments in recent months. As ever, I’m trying to balance the current form with long-term performance. Knee-jerk reactions are keenly avoided – one mistake doesn’t mean you can automatically consign a goalkeeper to the category of ‘calamity’ and one great save doesn’t necessarily count for much if it’s sandwiched between bouts of uncertainty and silly errors. With that in mind here’s my end of year totally subjective and unscientific World Goalkeeping Rankings.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
4. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
5. (3) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
7. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
8. (7) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
9. (=) Tim Krul (Newcastle and Netherlands)
10. (10) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Iker Casillas remains on top by virtue of his consistency and ability to bounce-back immediately from any semblance of a blip. He’s been typically reliable in Real Madrid’s surge to the top of La Liga and even in their defeat to Barcelona he was virtually foot perfect and showed leadership throughout. It’s ironic that the only goalkeeping error of El Clasico came from Victor Valdes and he ended up on the side that won with relative ease. It was a rare error from a goalkeeper with the passing skills that wouldn’t look out of place in the centre of midfield. Aside from his quality distribution, his concentration remains supreme and he’s the perfect goalkeeper for a Barcelona side seeking footballing perfection. It’s been a trying few months for their compatriot, Pepe Reina. The Liverpool goalie has been very good, but he’s been making more handling errors than we’ve become accustomed to due to the high standards he’s has achieved in the past. The mistakes were punished against Tottenham and Fulham, but there have been a smattering of other occasions when he got away with it. Reina is good enough that even when he’s not performing at his best, he’s still world-class, although slightly less world-class in recent months.

Another Premier League struggler is Petr Cech. Again, Cech has been excellent for much of the last few years, but this year has been difficult. At times he has shown the brilliance he is capable of, but hasn’t maintained it for long periods. A Chelsea defence struggling to adapt to life under Andre Villas-Boas hasn’t helped his cause and injuries has also disrupted his rhythm. He was uncharacteristically off the pace when Arsenal scored five at Stamford Bridge and at other times has been less than fluent in dealing with shots he has Again, he’s quality is not in doubt, but he’s not in his best form. Cech has bounced back from slumps in the past and there’s every reason to think a resurgence is in the pipeline.

Hugo Lloris feels like he’s been on the scene for years and it’s easy to forget that this Christmas will only bring his 25th birthday. Every time I’ve seen him, he has been hugely impressive. His reflexes, athleticism and composure are a delight to behold and as he gets older, he continues to add leadership to his box of tricks. He has been one of Europe’s best keepers for the last couple of seasons and it’s only a matter of time before he looks beyond Ligue 1 and towards the leading lights of European football for his next big challenge.

Tim Krul has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and contrary to the views of cynics, for once that’s not a position earned by default. The competition for that accolade has rarely been more fierce, but the Magpies number 1 has been so exceptional in so many Newcastle games, he is the pick of a strong crop. More than the impact of Alan Pardew, the shrewd acquisitions of Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, Krul’s form is arguably the reason for Newcastle’s surprisingly strong start to the season. For all their attacking play and improved organisation, they would a fraction of their points haul were it not for the numerous top quality saves he has come up with high in several games so far this season. The awesome display of agility and reflexes at Old Trafford may have been his most high-profile performances of the season, but in reality he has been excellent in virtually every game. He has progressed significantly since last season. Then he looked very capable, but also anxious and too prone to bad decisions and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Now he looks more composed, mature and seems to fill his goal far more than just a few months ago. The latter point may largely be down to the psychology of perception, but Krul is understandably more confident and it’s easy to see in his on-field demeanour. He makes his debut on the list after a stunning run of form that’s impossible to ignore.

Manuel Neuer was one of the world’s best whilst still at Schalke and he has enjoyed a tremendous start to his time at Bayern Munich. He set a club record for number of minutes without conceding a goal and although that run has come to an end, he is still making significant contributions to the Bavarians’ cause. Despite being top of the table, Bayern haven’t been flawless and Neuer has been there several times to make the difference between a win and careless dropped points. Style-wise, he’s the goalkeeper most resembling Peter Schmeichel in the game at present and if he continues to progress, he should enjoy similar levels of success to the Dane.

Shay Given is another regular feature on the rankings to have switched clubs over the summer. Clearly the older Given is more susceptible to injury than ever before, but already he has shown is immense ability by pulling of some fantastic saves for Aston Villa. He’s replicated that form for Ireland (one sloppy goal conceded against Estonia aside) and remains one of the world’s best. Gigi Buffon will no doubt empathise with Given on his injury troubles. The Italian missed a large part of last season with troublesome knocks he struggled to shake off, but since returning towards the end of last term and getting a run of games under his belt, he looks like the world-class keeper of old to the point where the debate about who deserves to be Italian number 1 that recently looked valid, as been relegated to the status of being almost laughable.

David De Gea drops out of the Top 10, but I stress that it’s not an abandonment of the belief that he’s something special and he’s destined to become one of the world’s best. Despite his excellent attitude and maturity beyond his years, he has struggled to get to grips with the Old Trafford spotlight. The standards at Manchester United are so high that there is little room for error and although he impressed hugely at Atletico Madrid, it would appear he is not quite the finished article – possibly more mentally rather than technically. Joe Hart takes a minor drop for a few errors in an otherwise good season for Man City. Like the rest of the team, we didn’t see the best of him in their abridged debut participation in the Champions League and he has been subject to a couple of lapses in concentration on the domestic front. It’s been an ongoing issue with Hart and one he needs to work on. The agility, handling and authority are all there, he just needs to iron out this one major chink in his armour.

It’s difficult to omit the likes of Michel Vorm, Woijech Szczesny and Guillermo Ochoa from the list, but it has to do done. Greatness comes with consistency and although they compare favourably with some of the other names on the list, they’ve not been operating at the same level for the similar length of time. Vorm has been nothing short of brilliant for Swansea. He has pulled off some breath-taking saves and is already a leading contender for the tag of ‘buy of the season’. Ideally he’d have more command of the aerial battles that are played out in his penalty area, but he’s so strong in other areas as to compensate for this short-coming. Szczesny has been excellent for Arsenal and before Robin van Persie grabbed the season by the scruff of the neck, he was their player of the season. He made massive progress in the off-season and even when the Gunners fumbled their way through the early part of the season, he was excellent. Guillermo Ochoa is a name I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the new year. His move to Ajaccio in Ligue 1 was a curious one, but not long after arriving in Corsica, it became clear he viewed it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Don’t let Ajaccio’s dreadful plight at the foot of the French top flight fool you, Ochoa has been brilliant in almost every game. He has been supremely agile with good hands and without him, they would have conceded far more than the 36 they’ve shipped in their 17 games to date. He will be going somewhere at the end of the season and it won’t be Ligue 2. Which is more than can be said for the club.

Agree, disagree or think I’ve missed out on someone?
Have your say in the comments section.

The Top 10 Saves In The Champions League

The Champions League returns this week as the groups begin to take shape and guest writer, Colin Steven has been rifling through the archives to pick his Top 10 saves in the short history of Europe’s top club competition.

10. Hugo Lloris (Lyon v Bordeaux)
Lloris was a major factor in Lyon overcoming Bordeaux in the 2010 quarter finals, pulling off one magnificent, game-winning save in particular.

9. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid v Bayer 04 Leverkusen)
Casillas had been first choice goalkeeper for three seasons but during the 2001–02 campaign he lost his place after a patch of bad form. He started the 2002 final on the bench but with 20 minutes to go Casillas came on for the injured Sánchez. He redeemed himself by pulling off several brilliant saves. The pick of the bunch was a stunning near post save from a Basturk thunderbolt. Real Madrid won 2–1 and Casillas has maintained the number one shirt ever since.

8. Oliver Kahn (Barcelona v Valencia)
Oliver Kahn is considered one of the best goalkeepers of all-time and Bayern Munich won their first European title in 25 years thanks to his match-winning performance in the 2001 final. He made some good saves during the game but it was in the penalty shoot-out that he excelled. Kahn had already saved penalties from Zlatko Zahovic and Amedeo Carboni but his save from Mauricio Pellegrino won the game. His performance even won him the man-of-the-match award, still the only keeper ever to do so in a Champions League final.

7. Victor Valdes (Barcelona v Chelsea)
Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes is one of their most underrated players. He played a big part in Barça’s 2009 win against Chelsea in the semi-final first leg, making a superb double save from Didier Drogba right at the start of the game.

6. Petr Cech (Chelsea v Barcelona)
Chelsea’s second leg clash with Barcelona in 2005 is a Champions League classic. Chelsea won 4 – 2 on the night and 5 – 4 on aggregate but it could have been on so different if it wasn’t for Petr Cech’s heroics. With Chelsea leading 3 – 2 but losing on the away goals rule, Barcelona were pushing for another goal that would surely see them through. Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol met a corner sweetly with a diving header and it looked destined for the back of the net but somehow Cech produced a magnificent one handed save.

5. Manuel Neuer (Schalke v Man Utd)
United could have been well ahead in the semi-final first leg by half-time, denied only by a series of incredible saves from Manuel Neuer. Neuer denied Park Ji-Sung, Patrice Evra, Javier Hernandez twice and Ryan Giggs twice but the pick of the bunch has to be his first of the night, when he wonderfully clawed away Wayne Rooney’s deflected shot from the top
corner.

4. Gianlugi Buffon (Juventus v Milan)
The 0 – 0 2003 final was no classic but one of the game’s outstanding moments came from the great Italian keeper, Gianlugi Buffon. Filippo Inzaghi’s diving header looked to be heading into the bottom corner but somehow Buffon instinctively got a hand to it and kept it out. Inzaghi’s look of disbelief afterwards says it all.

3. Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United v Rapid Vienna)
In the 1996 Champions League, Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel made a save reminiscent of Gordon Banks’ famous save from Pele. Rapid Vienna’s Rene Wagner headed a cross down towards the line firmly but the Great Dane dived athletically and pushed the ball over the bar with one hand.

2. Jerzy Dudek (Liverpool v AC Milan)
Jerzy Dudek’s performance against AC Milan in the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ is best remembered for his heroics in the penalty shoot-out when he gave his version of Grobbelaar’s ‘spagetti legs’. It worked as he saved two kicks but what is less well remembered his amazing double save from Andriy Shevchenko at the end of extra time, blocking a header and then somehow diverting the follow-up shot over the bar from just a yard out.

1. Gregory Coupet (Lyon v Barcelona)
This is one of the best saves of all time, never mind merely the Champions League. First of all Lyon keeper Coupet heads a back pass from one of his own defenders onto his own bar and then gets up quickly to save a header from the rebound. Incredible stuff.

Colin Stevens works for the FA.com and he’d like to let you know that Wembley Stadium is currently hosting the ‘Exhibitions of Champions’ – a collection of famous memorabilia from the storied history of the European Cup.
The Wembley Stadium Tour has welcomed millions of sports fans since it first opened in 1978 and now from Monday visitors will be able to enjoy the ‘Exhibition of Champions’ as well as the England changing rooms, players tunnel, trophy winner’s steps, press conference rooms and Wembley’s famous Royal Box.
To book a place on the Wembley Tour and see the ‘Exhibition of Champions’ visit
www.wembleystadium.com/tours or call 0844 800 2755

Exhibition of Champions

Premier League and La Liga GKs dominate latest Goalkeeper World Rankings

Guillermo Ochoa

It may have been a relatively barren summer with little by way of regular football fare, but it’s back and it’s been no sleepy start the season. It’s especially the case when it comes to the goalkeepers with a multitude of storylines to witness unfolding with fascination.

David De Gea dominated much of the goalkeeping related headlines for July and August. First there was the anticipation if seeing him line out for Manchester United in their pre-season programme. Then came the excitement of seeing him try the role in something more akin to the heat of battle with the Community Shield and the first league games as United the bid for league number 20. Sadly, it hasn’t been the start De Gea dreamed of, but although his fee comes with the expectation of near perfection, his age means a certain amount of slip-ups are to be expected. The frequency and nature of the mistakes have been surprising, but it’s too early to push the panic button. The media have once again displayed their remarkable ignorance of the goalkeeping position by essentially writing him off as a Fergie flop with immediate effect, but a less sensationalist analysis is required to thoroughly diagnose why the young Spaniard looks so far removed from the dominant nigh-on wall who impressed so for Atletico and the underage Spanish sides in recent seasons. It’s speculation on my part, but I believe his errors stem from over-thinking as a result of the realisation of the pressure at United. Having watched him closely for the guts of 2 years, I’m utterly convinced he has the ability to be a huge success at Old Trafford and he will overcome his difficulties in time. That said, at the moment his status in the Top 10 is under threat and his progress will be one of the more interesting subplots to the season.

A goalkeeper more than capable of speaking about putting short-term disappointment behind him is Shay Given and the early stages of Aston Villa career suggest his sustained period of inactivity at Manchester City hasn’t blunted his ability. Even throughout his spell of bench-warming, he was highly regarded by me and although being continually overlooked by Roberto Mancini meant he had to be eased out of the rankings, I have little difficulty in reinstating him into the Top 10. It’s a little harsh on Steve Mandanda who has really come along at Marseille, but in short – do I think Given has proven himself to be a better goalkeeper than the Frenchman? Personally I think he’s better than players higher up on the list, but time will tell if he can recapture the startling consistency that has made him one of Europe’s top goalkeepers for much of the last decade and return to his lofty position of the past.

At the top of the rankings, what we’ve seen from Iker Casillas suggests he will continue performing to the high standards now almost taken for granted. Two Super Copa games and 5 goals conceded isn’t the most compelling of stats to back up that claim, but his performances in keeping brilliant Barcelona at bay was far better than the scoreline suggested. Serie A hasn’t yet resumed so we haven’t seen Gigi Buffon, but will surely remain one of the world’s finest keepers. Petr Cech only managed one game before suffering an injury likely to keep him out for a month. That game wasn’t his most convincing and due to Pepe Reina’s good start to the season for Liverpool, the Premier League pair swap places. Hugo Lloris has been playing well for Lyon, but Manuel Neuer’s career at Bayern Munich hasn’t got off to the perfect start, either on or off the pitch. We’re more concerned about what happens on the pitch and for those reasons, he takes a slight dip in the rankings.

The most impressive performance from a goalkeeper this month came from a goalkeeper yet to break into the top 10. Guillermo Ochoa has long since been spoken about as the hottest goalkeeping property outside of Europe, so it was a surprise to many when he signed for newly promoted Corsican outfit, Ajaccio in Ligue 1. He has since explained that the move is in part to rehabilitate his reputation after allegations of doping and also as a stepping stone to one of Europe’s bigger name clubs. He may not stay with the islanders for long, but while he’s there the locals will be treated to some show. Already he has put in a couple of performances of remarkable agility and athleticism. He doesn’t yet break into the Top 10 on account if the fact I haven’t seen enough of him to be sure of his consistency, but more of the same and he’ll be there and most likely in a lofty position. He’ll have to make do with Goalkeeper of the Month honours for August.

Also in good form and narrowly missing out is Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal have had a troubled start to the season, but one major ray of sunshine has been the form of the young Pole. Over the summer, Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to make a move for a high-profile keeper was questioned, but it was always apparent that Szczesny would be his first choice and he looks to have repaid that faith by developing significantly during the close season. Confidence has never been an issue for the youngster, but his performances so far indicate he now is a more assured performer. The stunning penalty save from Antonio Di Natale in Arsenal’s Champions League was the cherry on top of the cake, but more impressive is the overall improvement in his game.

Another goalkeeper bubbling outside the Top 10 are Fernando Muslera who was simply brilliant at the Copa America. He’s another supremely talented goalkeeper who is yet to convince me of his consistency despite obvious ability. For a long time I had him pegged as something of a calamity keeper, but I’m more than willing to admit that may be an inaccurate reflection. I will follow his progress at Galatasaray keenly. Samir Handanovic of Udinese also impressed immensely in the Champions League tie with Arsenal and after getting a lot of good reports about him last season, he’ll be one to watch when the Serie A season finally gets underway.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
4. (3) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
5. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
9. (7) David de Gea (Manchester United)
10. (=) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Goalkeeper World Rankings – June 2011

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
4. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
5. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (7) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)
9. (10) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
10. (=) Steve Mandanda (Marseille and France)

With the European season coming to an end, there’s been a lull in major activity in my Goalkeeper World Rankings, but there was one major movement that kept me ticking over. The retirement of Edwin van der Sar leaves a hole right at the top of my World Rankings. When it became clear that this would be the Dutchman’s last season as a player, I worried that his lofty place in the rankings may have had too much to do with nostalgia and an over-sentimentality. As the season went on and van der Sar performed with assurance and no lack of agility, it was clear that despite his age, he was still very much one of the world’s elite.

His performance in the Champions League pretty much summed it up. There were some questions asked of his positioning, but I genuinely believe his hesitancy had more to do with the wide variety of attacking options in the Barcelona arsenal rather than error. With los Cules cutting United apart, I think he was on his guard for the through ball and for Pedro and Messi’s goals was a pace or two away from the ideal starting position. Overall though, his performance was excellent and even though it ended with a runners-up medal, individually he went out on a high. Without him, the United could well have been staring down the barrel of a 4 goal defeat.

So despite not having the major European leagues to follow, I’ve spent most of my time looking back over performances from throughout the season to pick out the goalkeeper I think deserves to make it into the Top 10. I had a long hard look at South America and spotted a few keepers I’ll be watching closely in future, but they weren’t quite up to making the Top 10. I threw it open to the floor and I was given cupboards full of food for thought with a wide array of possibilities. In the end, I went for Steve Mandanda and he makes his first appearance on my immensely subjective and totally debatable chart. For a long time, I rated the sheer agility of Mandanda as being comparable to the very best keepers in the world. Where he always fell down for me was his handling. To me it was always a little too untidy and he couldn’t really be trusted to gather most shots at the first attempt, but this season there was a significant improvement in that part of his game. He looks far move comfortable in both his handling and his decision-making. If he continues his progress, he’ll be challenging Hugo Lloris for the starting position with Les Bleus.

There’s little movement elsewhere. Pretty much everyone moves up one to allow for van der Sar hanging up the gloves. The exception is David de Gea, the man entrusted with the responsibility of replacing the Dutchman at Old Trafford. I’ve bumped him up a couple of places based on the strength of his performances at the U21 Euros. His handling was excellent and his showed the agility and command of his penalty area he’ll need to succeed in the Premier League. There were a couple of blips, but what also impressed me is how quickly he seems to be able to get them out of his head and concentrate on the next task.

His progress is almost certainly going to be the main talking point when I look at the rankings next time around.