The Manchester United Goalkeeper Hunt Continues

Paper talk over the last couple of days have attempted to shed more light on who’s likely to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, but if anything, it’s only highlighted how messy the picture has become. Here’s the latest attempt to cut through the double-talk and go through Sir Alex Ferguson’s likely wishlist.

Pepe Reina
1. Pepe Reina
As unthinkable as it might be to Liverpool fans, Reina joining their most despised of rivals isn’t as far-fetched as some may think. The Spaniard’s fiercely competitive nature is evident on the pitch and he wants to win trophies. Fernando Torres’ conclusion that aspirations of silverware were best served by moving elsewhere will have got Reina thinking about something similar. A move back to Spain has been spoken about, but only to Atletico Madrid where his father played for much of the 70s, even reaching a European Cup final. His contemporaries at Barcelona and Real Madrid would seem to have those plum goalkeeping berths locked down and the move to the Mattress Makers is more likely to happen towards the end of his career.

Not for the first time in his life, Liverpool’s recent upturn in form won’t be to the satisfaction of Sir Alex, but on this occasion it has nothing to do with rivaling the Red Devils for silverware or honours. The Anfield club are about as far away from a title challenge as at any point during Fergie’s reign at Old Trafford, but their resurgence under Kenny Dalglish may convince Reina to hang tight for at least another season. Ferguson and his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele are said to be big fans of Reina, but with improved form and the promise of further investment over the summer, extending his stay on Merseyside could be worth the risk. Time would appear to be on his side. He’ll only turn 29 towards the start of next season and such is the peak physical condition that Reina keeps himself in, it’d wouldn’t be a surprise to be talking about him in 2020. Reina has the option of having his cake and eating it by giving Liverpool another chance to return to the top of the English game. If it doesn’t work out and Man Utd are still the dominant force in the Premier League in a couple of years, he could move then and still enjoy an extended stay at Old Trafford.

David de Gea
2. David de Gea
With the Reina option looking less and less likely with each improvement King Kenny gets from his team, Man Utd have been exploring the possibly of raiding the next generation of Spanish custodian. David de Gea is at the forefront of the generation after reportedly impressing Steele on several scouting missions in the recent past. Purely of terms of talent, de Gea has exactly what it takes to succeed in the Premier League right now and with the potential for further improvement he could excel for Man Utd. At the age of 20, he’s a hugely exciting prospect, but his youth is something of a double-edged sword for Man Utd.

On one hand, snapping up a player barely out of his teens who has a proven track record of success has the potential – if the best of the dream-like best scenario’s comes to pass – of sorting out the Man Utd goalkeeping position for a decade and possibly more. On the other, de Gea is reported to have misgivings about moving abroad quite so young. De Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity and attitude, but the option of staying with Atletico to develop further prior to a big move is said to be tempting him into staying put for the next couple of years.

One concern may centre around the step up in expectations. In terms of media attention and pressure, his time at Atletico Madrid will have given de Gea at least an idea of what he will go through in the spotlight of Old Trafford, but the expectations at each club are vastly different. With the team in front of him regularly misfiring, on the occasions when de Gea has made mistakes, the consequences haven’t been too grave. That won’t be the case at Man Utd where – regardless of the opposition or the competition – he’ll play two high pressure games a week with virtually zero margin for error. With silverware expected, allowing the goal that turns three points into just one and could in turn prove costly at the end of the season will not be tolerated and de Gea has to decide if he’s ready for that level of scrutiny at this early stage of his career.

Manuel Neuer
3. Manuel Neuer
Neuer would be a great option for Man Utd, but he has made noises about preferring to stay in Germany and wanting to win a Bundesliga title. The interest from Bayern Munich would give him an option to complete both of these stated goals.

There had been hope that Thomas Kraft would be the long-term solution to Bayern’s goalkeeping issues, but for all his potential, he may not be the immediate remedy that the Bavarian club require. Attention has been turned back to Neuer and for good reason. He has always been highly rated, but over the last season and a half, the Schalke keeper has come along in leaps and bounds. Mistakes have been less and less common and his has become a more commanding presence around the penalty area. He is strikingly similar to the great Peter Schmeichel in terms of style and pure effectiveness and the experience he has amassed in six years of first team football make him vastly more tried and tested than the typical 25 year old. He has the talent to make a big impression at Old Trafford, but the signs are he’s staying put in the Bundesliga for the time-being. With age on his side, a move may again be discussed in the future, but for the moment – barring a change of heart or bags of money – it’s looking unlikely.

Maarten Stekelenburg
4. Maarten Stekelenburg
In the midst of all the speculation, Stekelenburg has remained a constant in the background. Rumours have trickled through consistently and the lack of agitation for a move and comment from Stekelenburg hints at a man confident in the knowledge a deal has been struck and where he’ll be playing his football next season. The Dutch connection makes the narrative of this particular option all the more appealing, but rest assured it has little influence on how Ferguson and Steele are assessing their options – Stekelenburg is being considered simply because he’s good enough to be considered and similarities with the departing Van der Sar are purely coincidental.

Technically good and physically robust, the current first choice for the Oranje would be well suited to the challenges of the Premier League and he comes across as the type of level-headed personality who will take the move to Old Trafford in his stride.

Gianluigi Buffon
5. Gianluigi Buffon
I’d be stunned if Buffon turns up at Old Trafford next season, mainly because it’s his agent who has been doing most of the talking about a possible move to England and purely on a personal basis, moving to the Premier League wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having spent his entire career in Serie A, moving to England would require uprooting a young family to a completely new culture for a few years. Otherwise he could try the commute, but that’s only likely to meet with disapproval from Sir Alex and eventual homesickness. It would appear that Buffon’s agent has looked at the only two major European clubs in need of a top quality goalkeeper in an attempt to frighten Juventus into offering him a much improved contract. My guess would be Buffon will get his contract, stay in Turin for the next couple of years before moving to one of the Gulf states for one last lucrative pay-day.

The financial situation at Juve is often cited as a reason why Buffon’s departure is a possibility, but how much is a 33 year old – admittedly top class – increasingly injury-prone goalkeeper likely to fetch in a depressed transfer market? Whatever figure you arrive it, it’s unlikely to be enough to chase the financial gloom away. The benefits of hanging on to Buffon almost certainly outweigh the benefits of selling him on. Possibly adding fuel to the rumour is a fractious relationship with head coach, Luigi Del Neri. After recovering from the injury sustained at the World Cup, Buffon declared himself fit and ready to return for Juventus. Rather than immediately reinstate Italy’s number 1, Del Neri kept faith with Marco Storari for an extended period of time and that didn’t go down well with Buffon. As he was one of Del Neri’s first signings when taking charge last summer, there may have been an element of politics involved in the manager’s decision to stick with Storari, but whatever the reason, it’s judgment like that which makes it likely Buffon will be at Juventus next season whilst Del Neri will not.

The ‘all things considered’ most likely options list
1. Stekelenburg
2. De Gea
3. Reina
4. Neuer
5. Buffon

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Julio Cesar To Manchester United?

Julio Cesar to Man Utd?

With all it’s expanded waistlines, depleted bank balances and overwhelming gloom, January wasn’t one of our favourite months anyway, but it’s transformation into the season of the unfounded transfer rumour has knocked it down a further peg or two. It’s now our 14th most popular month behind Quintilis and Movember.

If January wasn’t already bad enough with speculation about possible January transfer moves, speculation regarding possible summer moves make it even more dreary. Sadly they’re also impossible to ignore and with word coming from informed Old Trafford sources that Van der Sar and Kuszczak will be allowed leave for retirement and a bench that needs warming elsewhere respectively, Manchester United are in the hunt for a new keeper. He may have been told otherwise just as he signed his contract with the club, but Anders Lindegaard will not be the first choice in the United goal for the foreseeable future. That leaves us wondering who will be brought in to replace the excellent Van der Sar. David de Gea and Manuel Neuer were both spoken as potential signings for the Red Devils, but they’ll be expensive and outside the age profile of keepers Fergie has tended to bring into the club. He tends to value experience and on the occasions when he has needed a first choice keeper, has generally gone for players in their late twenties and older with a good deal of first team and international football behind them. Judging by the commencement of clumsy flirting during the week, Julio Cesar is the surprise name to have emerged in pole position.

It’s a surprise for several reason. He wears a snood for starters. It says something about Fergie’s mellowing attitude that this isn’t already a major stumbling block. It’s also strange because a lot of people’s most vivid memory of Cesar will be of his horribly misguided attempts to clear a Netherlands’ cross at the World Cup this summer. The error – along with the error of both taking Felipe Melo to South Africa and then playing him – were in large part responsible for the Brazilian’s surprise early exit from the tournament. But that error must be forgiven because in that season alone, Cesar had already worked wonders for Inter Milan. The idea that he’s some continental style keeper who’s overly fond of the punch and less keen on the physical just isn’t accurate when it comes to the Brazilian.

Cesar has outstanding reflexes and excellent agility. At times his ability to catapult his body across the goal to get a hand to a shot seemingly on an express route to the top corner would suggest his legs are packed with high power springs. There’s an explosiveness to his dives that sees him get across to shots you would have thought were beyond [the much celebrated save from Messi is a prime example]

One off-shoot of his tremendous reactions is an ability to adjust and make saves by whatever means possible. In general is technique is sound, but he’s also very capable of doing the unorthodox and finding some limb to get in the way of a scuffed shot or an attempt that may have taken a deflection. It’s instinctive and uncommon, but for whatever reason he has the happy knack of throwing something at the ball to keep it out. As a bonus, he’s also surprisingly good with the ball at his feet – some may say better than Michael Carrick. It may seem like a triviality right now, but there will be times when the ability to create a yard or two of space to clear the ball will come in helpful. He’s also brave and commands his penalty area well. Contrary to the evidence of the World Cup, collecting crosses isn’t normally a huge issue for him and if he’s capable of doing it in Serie A, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it in England. Another positive is work-rate. Throughout his career in Serie A and with the Samba Boys, he hasn’t always been top of the pecking order, but invariably, he seems to do the work required to break into the first team. He did it to become Inter’s first choice and leap-frogged a whole host of his compatriots to become Brazil’s number one. Attitude does not seem to be a problem.

The major concern is handling. That’s not to say he’s got bad ball handling skills, it’s just we don’t see them often enough. His saves can be breath-taking, but what stands out is a reluctance to hang on to the ball. I’m not expecting him to cling on to every single shot, but there are times when he parries a ball out for a corner when catching it wasn’t out of the question. Of course the main task is to keep the ball out, but in the Premier League in particular, there are plenty of teams that can hurt you from corners and you wouldn’t want to be giving them too many opportunities to test a United defence that has struggled at times this season. If he doesn’t give away a corner, then the chances are the ball is back out in open play and that presents it’s own obvious problems. To succeed in the Premier League, catching the ball more often will be essential. He can certainly do it, it’s a matter of doing it more often. The press will jump on him if they sense he’s another stereotypically ‘continental’ lightweight keeper and as much as I disagree with the classification, that won’t stop the label being applied. This has the potential to undermine both his confidence personally and the confidence of his team-mates. He’s also likely to be expensive. His contract is said to run until 2014 and being just 31 is expected to have the guts of a decade’s worth of football ahead of him. He won’t come cheap, but Fergie will be tempted to spend the money on this proven performer.

Best Goalkeeper Performance 2010

A fumble, a drop, a public embarrassment.
As ever, it’s the howlers and calamities that the majority of the attention from the mainstream media when it comes to goalkeepers, but 2010 saw no shortage of truly excellent performances.

Considering the importance of the match and the quality of his saves, what Iker Casillas did in the World Cup Final was astonishing. The compressed historical version will see it as a deserved triumph for free-flowing Spanish football over the wrecking ball approach of the Dutch, but in truth the Netherlands produced some silky skills of their own and could very easily have brought the stereotype of Spanish self-doubt back if they had taken the lead. It wasn’t the busiest or even most spectacular night of Casillas’ career, but the Spanish captain was excellent in denying Arjen Robben at crucial moments in the game. His concentration was supreme and when his time came, he was there time and time again with confident and assertive goalkeeping. His saves in one on one situations were the most memorable, but the way in which he fielded so many high balls with the minimum of fuss shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the pressure off his defenders and laid the foundations for a famous victory. Considering the size of the occasion and the poor start he made to the tournament, it was an excellent all round performance. Not quite performance of the year mind.

Julio Cesar ended the year known as the goalkeeper who cost Brazil their place at the tournament, but that once off blip can’t take away from an excellent first part of the year when he starred in Inter Mlian’s treble. His reactions and agility were a huge assistance to the Champions League campaign in general and the semi-final tie with Barcelona in particular. Over the two legs he made some outstanding saves and with the second leg taking place at the Nou Camp, his team needed whatever advantage they could muster. Much like Casillas on the night in South Africa, it may not have been the sheer volume of saves that impressed, so much as the command and composure he exerted in his area. Without Cesar, it could have been a different story and the hunt for their third European Cup could have run well beyond 45 years.

There were no World Cups or European trophies up for grabs in the match which saw the Ministry Of Glove’s Performance of 2010, but it did end up in silverware. Whilst being amongst Europe’s elite players means Casillas and Cesar are playing for bigger stakes, for a journeyman pro pressure comes in different ways. The FAI Cup Final rarely reaches an audience of hundreds of thousands, let alone hundreds of millions, but for Ciaran Kelly it was a massive game and he delivered for his team in real style. The game was played at the fabulous Aviva Stadium in front of a raucous crowd comprising Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers fans. The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of football, but don’t allow the scoreline to paint a dreary mental image of the game. It was thrilling from start to finish and Kelly played no small part in helping Sligo Rovers keep pace with their more celebrated opponents in normal and extra time, but it was when the game reached the dramatic crescendo of a penalty shoot-out that Kelly excelled. He saved an incredible 4 of the Shamrock Rovers penalties, but even more impressive was the quality of the saves. He combined agility with intelligence and guts to put his team in with a great chance of winning – a chance they firmly grasped. Watch it all below.

Kelly’s first save was ultimately straightforward, but his movement along the goal-line plants the seed of doubt in the penalty-takers’ mind. The second save is genuinely top class. He reads the penalty-taker and flings himself acrobatically across the goal to make the save. A simple analysis would suggest he guessed right and made a full stretch save, but it’s the way in which he watches the taker – almost hunting him down – that gives you the sense he is in control. For me, the third save is the pick of the high class bunch. Kelly looks like he’s going to his left, but adjusts magnificently to stay upright and get a strong hand to the shot – it was superb anticipation from Kelly and required bravery because he ran the risk of looking very foolish indeed in front of a huge psyched up crowd. At this stage, Kelly making a fourth save looks like a mere formality, but again he adjusts brilliantly to get to one going down the middle. He has gone to his left, but the moment he realises where the shot is heading, slows down his dive and gets his legs to up and in the way. It was truly superb and it says so much about Kelly’s performance that the only criticism you could level his way is the Shearer-esque ‘too cool to celebrate wildly’ run he goes on after making the winning save. It was a great performance and the fact that it wasn’t at the highest level doesn’t take away from it one bit. Excellent goalkeeping isn’t dependent on the prize being competed for and Kelly deserves the accolade.

Honourable mentions
Joe Hart had numerous excellent performances both for Birmingham and upon his return to Man City. Petr Cech was excellent as Chelsea powered to the top of the table and still is despite the dramatic downturn in form. David de Gea has emerged as a top quality young goalkeeper and he had some outstanding games in La Liga throughout 2010. It wasn’t a good year for Liverpool, but the form of Pepe Reina saved it from being a whole lot worse. The Spaniard wasn’t always at the top of his game, but his habit of making crucial saves saved the Reds a hatful of points. He’s not without his own flaws, but Mark Schwarzer also deserves a lot of credit for his role in Fulham’s run to the final of the Europa League. It was a late entry for consideration, but Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke against Bayern Munich was remarkable and showed exactly why their such interest in signing him.

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Disclaimer bit
Apologies for any major omissions here. As much as I try, it’s just not feasible to take in everything on offer in the lower British leagues, around Europe and across the globe. My choices are based on what I’ve watched or researched following glowing reports about the goalkeepers involved. Week in, week out there are goalkeeping performances that no doubt fully deserve to be mentioned. Although I may make the same mistakes in 2011 and miss out on some performances, I thoroughly enjoying watching and appreciate all the efforts of the goalkeepers out there.

Ballon D’Or Nominations – Iker Casillas

Ballon D'Or

The nominees for the Ballon d’Or have been announced and World Cup winner and Ministry of Glove number 1 Iker Casillas, is amongst the candidates up for the prestigious award. He’s one of the many Spanish players on the shortlist but the only member of Union of Goalkeepers to make the cut. The odds of award actually being passed into his grateful hands would appear to be slim. Only once in the 54 year history of the accolade has it gone to a goalie. Lev Yashin was victorious in 1963 with strikers and attacking midfielders forming the vast majority of other recipients down through the years. Despite now incorporating the FIFA World Player of the Year award, it’s no more likely that the brilliant goalkeeper will claim the title on this occasion.

Casillas may be unlikely to win it, but he would certainly be at home amongst the company of such revered football talent. We’ve praised Casillas to the rafters for his contribution to Spain’s march to glory, but in this case the waxing lyrical is warranted. In South Africa, he provided the reliable platform upon which a generally strong defence could prosper. It wasn’t so much quantity of saves he made at the World Cup that impressed but the quality, timing and significance. Whenever a side like Spain are playing, their opponents won’t see much of the ball so how concentration needed to be of the highest order. At times during the tournament, Paraguay, Portugal, Germany and most of all kung fu Holland saw enough of the ball to carve out excellent chances only to be denied by the Spanish captain. Being at Real Madrid for one of the more barren spells in their history hasn’t helped his medal collection or his claims for the title, but very little blame can be apportioned to him for the struggles of the neo-Galacticos era.

Casillas winning the award would be out of left field, but the people lucky enough to have a vote for the award should save a few moments to consider the merits of this legend in the making.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

After the feast of the World Cup, it’s time to look at how events in South Africa shaped our list of the World’s Top Goalkeepers. After a disappointing season with Real Madrid, Iker Casillas was rather lower down the pecking order than many may have expected, but his commanding displays in the Spanish goal were the foundation upon which their attractive brand of football can be built.

Until the final you would have barely noticed his contribution and that’s no bad thing. Just think about how Robert Green’s profile sky-rocketed during the World Cup but for all the wrong reasons. Casillas was tidy, assured and typically agile throughout the World Cup, but it was in the final when he was called upon to stop Arjen Robben on two occasions he was superb. He again did the less spectacular things perfectly well and gave the defenders in front of him the confidence to set up Spain’s attacking play. He won the Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper at the tournament and he jumps to the top of the rankings as a result. There can be little doubt that he is the best in world.

Moving in the opposite direction is Julio Cesar of Brazil. Rather than being a knee-jerk reaction to the one major mistake against Holland, that’s more a reflection of a general dip in form. After a treble winning season with Inter Milan, maybe too much was expected of him, but he was shaky in general and didn’t help when the questions were asked of his defence. He’s still top class, but his problems harked back to earlier problems in his when he looked very uncomfortable with the physicality of Serie A.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hugo Lloris doesn’t suffer too much for France’s horror show. The Lyon keeper played reasonably well considering the farce that was unfolding in front of him. With the major European leagues about to commence, there’s sure to be some big movement over the next few weeks.

The Ministry Of Glove’s Goalkeeping Rankings
Current (Former)
1. (4) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (1) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
3. (2) Shay Given (Man City and Ireland)
4. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
5. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
6. (7) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
7. (8) Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow and Russia)
8. (9) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
9. (10) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
10. (5) Julio Cesar (Inter Milan and Brazil)

One on One – Casillas v Neuer

One one One

Iker Casillas (Spain) v Manuel Neuer (Germany)

There’s an element of the master and the apprentice to the match up of Casillas and Neuer. Or to use a more contemporary and equally questionable analogy, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. At 24 years of age, Neuer is threading in the studmarks of the Spanish number 1. At a similar age, there could be little doubt that Casillas was a goalkeeper of some talent, but he was rough around the edges and even rougher under the high ball. But he constantly worked at his game and several years – and several inevitable howlers – later, he ranks amongst the handful of truly elite goalkeepers in the world.

His displays at this World Cup perhaps indicate why he was able to make the transformation from potential star to proven stalwart. He hasn’t been at his very best during the tournament, but his workrate and awareness have compensated on a couple of occasions when his technique failed him. A prime example was against Portugal. Against teams who struggle to mount meaningful attacks, the temptation is to switch off and think about your holidays – or in the case of Casillas your stunningly attractive girlfriend who’s on the sidelines. On a rare occasion when Portugal did get a threatening ball into the Spanish box, the flight of the infamous Jabulani ball took a late dip and what looked to be a simple catch turned into a problem. Yet – once it dawned on him catching it was going to prove tricky – he had the sense to get the ball away from danger with a volleyball-esque ‘scoop’ that Thierry Henry would be proud of. Against Paraguay, the tidy penalty save against Cardozo got the headlines with it was later on that his reactions truly saved Spain. After Casillas uncharacteristically spilled a shot from Barrios, the ball broke to Roque Santa Cruz. Without top class awareness, the striker would have a straight-forward task of slotting it home, but Casillas was quick to recover and got out to block Santa Cruz from point-blank range.

As wanky as it sounds, there’s a lesson to be learned for Neuer in how Casillas has progressed. The German is a goalkeeper of talent, but far from perfect at the moment. Against England and Argentina he showed his excellent reactions with a couple of world class saves, but those performances were littered with minor errors that could become major embarrassments. His handling was suspect against Argentina and as yet isn’t assertive enough when coming to collect crosses. Any criticism of him must be qualified with difficult situation he finds himself him. Firstly, he is extremely young and wouldn’t be German number 1 had it not been for the distressing suicide of Robert Enke. As a human, pulling on that jersey must remind him, even if only briefly of the recent tragedy. Even then, it was likely Rene Adler would take the position ahead of him had it not been for an injury that ended the Leverkusen keeper’s season prematurely. Then the normal impact of being involved in a game of immense pressure must also be taken into account. All in all, it’s probably a miracle he gets out of bed in the morning, so let’s not throw too much abuse his way.

The Germans have an extremely talented young squad, but that inexperience extends to the one position on the field were in can be most exposed. Neuer will become an excellent goalkeeper in the not too distant future, but he’s the weak link in a strong chain at present. Spain have the stronger goalkeeper and with so much attacking talent on show, that could prove pivotal in the second semi-final.

Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland) v Nestor Muslera (Uruguay)

One on One

How are the respective goalkeepers likely to impact the first semi-final?

From what I had seen of Maarten Stekelenburg prior to the World Cup, I considered the possibility that Bert Van Marwijk might invite Edwin Van der Sar along for an unplanned trip to South Africa. He filled in when the Dutch goalkeepers had a mini injury crisis at the beginning of qualification so such a decision would not have been completely out of left field. A combination of difficult family circumstances and my underestimating of Stekelenburg’s talents meant that was probably never truly realistic. Under the reign of Van Marwijk, the Ajax keeper has become the first choice of the Oranje, yet there can be no doubt that Van der Sar would command the position if he made himself available for international duty.

But Holland must play with the hand they’ve been dealt and Stekelenburg has done most of what has been asked of him throughout the World Cup. He made some saves against Brazil that were as excellent as they were crucial. Without his efforts Brazil could have been out of sight early on in the quarter-final and we wouldn’t even be talking about Holland. My judgments on Stekelenburg were based mainly on some of his performances for Ajax. He looked slow, clumsy and unconvincing at times, and this was reinforced by the fact Marco Van Basten saw fit to drop him during the 2008-09 season but he has recovered to make the position his own under Martin Jol. That said, he’s been around for the better part of a decade, so it’s easy to forget how young he is. At 27, he’s allowed make a few mistakes, but with Holland eying up their maiden World Cup crown, he’ll need to be at the top of his game. And his best will be required because he’s good, but far from perfect.

In the other corner is Fernando Muslera. If Stekelenburg epitomises the Dutch team’s adequate yet largely unimpressive progress in this World Cup, then Muslera’s form also apes that of Uruguay in general. In short, there are signs of genuine talent, but on occasion they have prevailed by accident rather than design. Ultimately he made the save in the penalty shootout that earned the Uruguayans their place in the last 4, but during open play he was suspect. Sulley Muntari had the praise heaped upon him for his goal, but (a) it was struck from about 30 yards out (b) it wasn’t struck with any great pace and (c) it wasn’t right in the corner. Muslera was slow to react and didn’t get across his goal well enough. He is undoubtedly agile as his penalty save showed, but in the build-up to the Luis Suarez handball incident he was left flailing foolishly as the ball pinged around the 6 yard box. His judgement and decision-making need work, but there is certainly ability that’s ready to be molded. There’s no arguing with results and the clean sheets he has accumulated during the World Cup demonstrate he has talent, but he’s not flawless and nor should he be at just 24 years of age.

In years to come, Muslera may well become a top class goalkeeper. Serie A is as good a finishing school as a young keeper is likely to get, but for the moment, Stekelenburg is the more convincing of the two. With so much attacking talent on the field, it would be a shame if a World Cup semi-final was settled by a goalkeeping error, but neither custodians strike you as being utterly flawless. The pressure of such an important match will highlight any flaws.