Rarely has there been a stronger group assembled in international football. With all four members of Group B nestled inside FIFA’s top 10, it’s been labeled the ‘group of death’. It doesn’t lack for goalkeeping talent either and here’s a rundown of the twelve vying for game time at Euro 2012.
The Danes go into the tournament with a trio of goalkeepers lacking experience at international level. Between them Stephan Andersen, Kasper Schmiechel and Anders Lindegaard have a grand total of 15 caps.
Anderson (30) is likely to get the nod by virtue of his slight advantage in experience and strong showing for Evian in Ligue 1. He’s a very technically correct goalkeeper with good reflexes and tidy hands. He’s arguably the least globally famous of the Danes goalkeeping ranks, but he’s a reliable presence.
Lindegaard (28) had a mixed bag of a season for Manchester United. At one point he looked unbeatable and, in contrast to the struggles of David De Gea, the keeper more able to handle the pressure of playing at Old Trafford. It didn’t take long for more suspect performances to come however and combined with the young Spaniard finding his feet, he was relegated to the bench. He wasn’t helped by injury towards the end of the season and his inactivity has counted against him.
It’s hard to disassociate Schmeichel junior with the standards set by his Dad. Examined in his own right, Kasper is a good pro, capable of pulling off some saves, but also a little too error-prone so far in his career. He has played for Denmark’s underage teams, but has yet to earn his first senior cap. If all goes to plan for Morten Olsen and his team, that won’t change at this tournament.
Manuel Neuer went to World Cup 2010 as the replacement for the tragic Robert Enke. He was good, but a little raw and it showed. Two years on, he’s got two good seasons under his belt and he looks genuinely world-class. His effort to keep out Drogba’s header in the Champions League final wasn’t his finest hour, but it was one possible mistake in a season of excellent performances.
Behind him in the order is the vastly experienced Tim Wiese. Ideally Joachim Loew would prefer not to need him, but if called upon, the 30-year-old newly signed Hoffenheim keeper will be a reliable deputy. He made a few high-profile blunders a few seasons back, but he bounced back to become a more solid keeper. Ever the man for the blunt quote, former Arsenal and Germany keeper Jens Lehmann is less convinced telling the media “If Neuer gets injured, we have no chance.”
The ‘one for the future’ in the goalkeeping division is Ron-Robert Zieler. The former Manchester United youth team player has excelled since returning to his homeland. He has just one senior international cap to his name, but has played for Germany all the way up the age groups, including the successful Under 19 European Championships campaign of 2008.
Spain undoubtedly have the strongest goalkeeping division at the Euros, but the Netherlands are a close second. Maarten Stekelenburg was excellent in the Oranje’s run to the final of the 2010 World Cup and it’s his experience that makes him the preferred number 1 over his two immensely talented rivals.
Michel Vorm goes into the tournament on the back of an excellent season with Swansea. His reputation grew with every Premier League performance. He’s arguably a more agile and athletic keeper than Stekelenburg, but may suffer for being a less authoritative figure under the high ball.
Tim Krul was another Dutchman to have an excellent Premier League season. He has some lightening quick reflexes (see his string of point blank saves for Newcastle this season) and more command of his penalty area than Vorm, so it looks like a lack of experience is the main issue undermining his claims.
The official line coming from the Portuguese camp is that the goalkeeping role is up for grabs with each player having an opportunity to impress. That stance was backed up with the rotation used in the friendlies coming in to the tournament.
Rui Patricio of Sporting Lisbon is most likely to get the nod however. He was the choice for the latter stages of the qualifying campaign and is arguably the most naturally talented of the three. He lacks the experience at club of his two older compatriots, but his natural athleticism and reflexes make up for it. His handling can be a little untidy at times, but as that’s some his rivals also sometimes struggle with, it’s not a major disadvantage. Rumours have done the rounds about a possible move the Manchester United and although that makes little sense, it does suggest how highly he is rated.
Eduardo began the road to Poland and Ukraine as the first choice, but lost his place after slipping down the pecking order at Benfica. Something of a penalty saving specialist, he’s an agile keeper, but one that doesn’t exert the greatest command of his penalty area. To his credit, he played all of Portugal’s matches at World Cup 2010, conceding just one goal in four games and keeping three clean sheets.
Beto is almost certainly rated as the third choice of the three. He hasn’t been able to leapfrog Helton at Porto and spent last season on loan in Romania, playing for CFR Cluj. There’s no doubting his supreme agility or tenacity, but you get the feeling he tends to ham it up for the cameras, which isn’t ideal. At 6 foot tall, he lacks height and as a result he can be poor under the high ball.