What is the best moment in a football match? If your answer is goals, you will be in the majority who think so. It is the event that gets the loudest cheer from the fans, players, and managers. However, this makes the job of goalkeepers quite tricky. They play in a position where their job is to save goals. And some of them excel at it even at the biggest tournament, the FIFA World Cup.
Held every four years, the World Cup is the pinnacle of football and being the top performer is a dream for every player. And in the nine decades of World Cup history, legendary shot-stoppers have single-handedly helped their teams reach deep into the tournament through world-class performances regularly. Since 1994, most of them have also won the Golden Glove awards, which shows their brilliance.
Many of these were instrumental in their country winning the World Cup and thus have acquired legendary status in football folklore.
So, we bring you the top 10 goalkeepers in FIFA World Cup history.
1958 FIFA World Cup Harry Gregg
The Northern Irishman is the perfect example of how far a poor team can reach if their goalkeeper is among the best in the world. It was the first World Cup for Harry Gregg, and his country and the shot-stopper made sure it was one they would remember forever. Northern Ireland were drawn into a group which included defending champions West Germany, Czechoslovakia and Argentina.
This would be an insurmountable challenge for even a seasoned team, but the Irish and Harry Gregg took it head-on. They finished second in their groups and recorded two wins over Czechoslovakia and an impressive draw against West Germany. Gregg made save after save in all these matches, frustrating the opponents; they would qualify for the next round, where France beat them 4-0. However, Gregg’s performance made him a legend for his country and rightly so.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) October 27, 2017
1994 FIFA World Cup Michel Preud’homme
Imagine a team gets relegated in the round of 16, and the goalkeeper is still awarded as the best shot-stopper. This was the level of performance that Belgium’s Michel Preud’homme managed in just four appearances. The Belgian was the key reason the Red Devils managed to qualify for the round of 16.
The highlight of his World Cup came against Morocco, where the goalkeeper managed to keep a clean sheet. This is despite Belgium conceding 20 shots, including 11 in the second half. However, his best save came in the 70th minute when Mohammed Chaouch’s header was destined for goal before Michel Preud’homme decided otherwise and stopped the ball from going into the back of the net.
Belgium's Michel Preud'Homme keeps an eye on the ball as it crashes against the bar having made a spectacular save to keep out Marc Overmars' deflected effort during his side's World Cup clash against the Netherlands in 1994. Belgium held on to win 1-0. pic.twitter.com/UlddHFCaeR
— GoaliesAreDifferent (@goalkeepersdiff) July 30, 2022
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1974 FIFA World Cup Sepp Maier
In the 1974 FIFA World Cup, West Germany were firm favourite along with ‘Total Football’ pioneer Netherlands. The team had a star striker in Gerd Muller, a brilliant sweeper and leader in Franz Beckenbauer and an impressive goalkeeper in Sepp Maier. Nicknamed ‘Die Katze’ or for his cat-like reflex, Maier was the best goalkeeper in the World Cup.
The shot-stopper kept four clean sheets against Chile and Australia in the first round, which was instrumental as they had lost against East Germany. He kept two clean sheets against Yugoslavia and Poland in the second qualifying round. He was also brilliant in the final, making key saves and helping Die Mannschaft overturn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win and bring West Germany their second title.
Three legends for the price of one – West Germany's Sepp Maier dives at the feet of the Netherlands' Johan Cruyff as Franz Beckenbauer looks on during the 1974 World Cup Final. pic.twitter.com/qxs8rAdkXz
— GoaliesAreDifferent (@goalkeepersdiff) February 12, 2020
1966, 1970 FIFA World Cup Gordon Banks
Gordon Banks, English’s safest hands. The English goalkeeper is widely remembered for his impossible save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup. However, he was equally impressive four years earlier as he helped England to their maiden title. Again, Banks was brilliant at the World Cup.
The shot-stopper would concede his first goal in the semi-final against Portugal. This shows his impressive performances as he kept clean sheets against top teams such as France, Uruguay, and Argentina. Even the goal he conceded against Portugal was a penalty kick. While he would concede two goals in the final, one of them was not his fault as a defender blocked his vision.
He would continue his impressive form by keeping clean sheets in all three matches in the next World Cup. This included the
the game against Brazil, where he made that historical save.
My condolences to the family and loved ones of the great Gordon Banks. A true hero and legend.
His contribution to England's iconic World Cup winning team was immense and this save from Pele's header in 1970 will live in our memories forever.
Rest in Peace. pic.twitter.com/EN9kvN2PMh
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) February 12, 2019
2010 FIFA World Cup Iker Casillas
The Spanish national team between 2008 and 2012 was the stuff of legend. They were the first national team to win three consecutive international tournaments, i.e. 2008 Euro, 2010 FIFA World Cup, and 2012 Euro. The team was stacked with talent across the pitch and their captain Iker Casillas was in the form of his life.
However, he reserved his best for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Spain had started their campaign disappointingly, losing 1-0 to Switzerland. However, the team recovered with two wins to their names. And they found their mojo in the knockout along with captains. Casillas made four consecutive clean sheets from the round of 16 to the final match. This included a penalty save in the quarter-final against Paraguay and two brilliant saves in the final against the Netherlands. Casillas would win the best goalkeeper award and help Spain win their first FIFA World Cup title.
"It was the save of his life."
__ Xavi on Iker Casillas' famous save against Arjen Robben in 2010 World Cup Final. pic.twitter.com/sFO97g4XLP
— TheRMadridTV (@TheRMadridTV) July 11, 2020
1958, 1962, 1966 FIFA World Cup Lev Yashin
You are a brilliant shot-stopper if the award for the best goalkeeper annually is named after you. Lev Yashin, nicknamed ‘The Black Spider’, is said by many to be the best goalkeeper ever to play the game. The Soviet man represented his country in three World Cups and performed admirably in them.
In his first appearances, the Soviet Union qualified for the second round ahead of powerhouses England before losing to Sweden. However, the next time Yashin would bring his best, making scenes after saves to help the Soviet Union top their group. After that, however, they would again falter in the quarter-final losing to Chile. A year later, he would also win the Ballon d’Or, the only goalkeeper to date to win it.
However, Yasin was not done and returned in the 1996 FIFA World Cup, where the Soviet Union were drawn into a group including Italy, North Korea and Chile. Yashin’s goalkeeping heroics would help his team win all three matches, which included a 1-0 win over Italy. They would also break their quarter-final curse by defeating Hungary but would lose to West Germany in the next round.
Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin during the World Cup semi-final at Goodison, Liverpool 1966 pic.twitter.com/aerqH6XtKY
— Angies Liverpool (@angiesliverpool) August 30, 2022
2014 FIFA World Cup Manuel Neuer
Germany arrived for Brazil’s 2014 FIFA World Cup with perhaps the best squad. The team ran like a well-oiled machine, and like is the tradition with their team in every World Cup, they had the world’s best goalkeeper at that time in their ranks, Manuel Neuer. The German had already won a treble at the club level with Bayern Munich but still needed to win an international trophy.
However, all that changed in Brazil as Neuer revolutionised the art of goalkeeping. The German acted as a sweeper, a defender who would run out of his box to become a passing option and help dictate the play. He was at his best against Algeria, repeatedly running out of the box to snuff out the Algerian counter-attack. During the match, he would also tackle the defender and earn the sweeper-keeper title. His performances continued as he kept a clean sheet against France and would concede only one in the dying minutes in the famous 7-1 win over Brazil. His final clean sheet came in the final, which helped Germany win their fourth title.
Manuel Neuer vs Algeria
(2014 World Cup)
One of the best sweeper keeper performances ever. He was absolutely insane that day. pic.twitter.com/cb99CIL9b8
— Sarah (@bavarianish) September 23, 2019
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2006 FIFA World Cup Gianluigi Buffon
When the 2006 FIFA World Cup started, few would have given Italy any chance of winning their fourth title. The Italians were an effective team but were considered to be far from the world-class levels of teams such as Germany and Brazil. However, Italy’s strong defence and star goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had other ideas.
The Italian was in the prime of his career, which would come in useful during his nation’s incredible run in the World Cup. Buffon only conceded two goals in the tournament, one of which was an own goal, while the other was a penalty in the final. He kept five clean sheets and won the Golden Glove award as a result.
Gianluigi Buffon turns 43 today.
Lets go back to the 2006 world cup where Buffon produced 35 saves and conceded only 2 goals, which was a Zaccardo own goal and Zidane penalty.
Without a doubt the best ever performance over a world cup by any goal keeper and arguably any player. pic.twitter.com/IzQG6vfjHK
— Hannah (@JuventinaHannah) January 28, 2021
1982 FIFA World Cup Dino Zoff
Italy’s 2006 campaign was impressive, but it comes nowhere near to their 1982 one. Two years before the tournament, 11 players were caught in a match-fixing scandal, and star player Paolo Rossi, though innocent, was hit with a two-year ban from the national team.
For the 1982 FIFA World Cup, the Italians named their 40-year-old goalkeeper Dino Zoof as the captain. Paolo Rossi had also returned, but the team was still weak. So, they did what they could do, which was to play defensive football. This almost got them eliminated as they drew all three matches in the group stages but managed to scrape through to the next round by the barest margin.
In the next round, they would be paired with Argentina and Brazil and to everyone’s amazement that Itlains would defeat both of them. Nevertheless, it was a significant achievement, especially considering the 1982 Brazil team is considered by many to be the best team never to win a World Cup.
During all this time, Dino Zoff donned the role of goalkeeper and captain to perfection and, in the final, produced brilliant saves to help Italy win their third World Cup title after 48 years.
Did you know?
The oldest player to lead a country to the World Cup title was the Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff. At the age of 40, Zoff captained Italy to their 1982 FIFA World Cup title.#NBSWorldCupChat | #NBSportUpdates
Photograph: Courtesy pic.twitter.com/JvTaB2YhxN
— NBS Sport (@NBSportUg) July 19, 2022
2002 FIFA World Cup Oliver Kahn
Winning the best goalkeeper award at a World Cup is an achievement. However, being named as the best player of the tournament while being a goal in legendary status. And only Germany’s Oliver Kahn has managed to do so to date. When Germany arrived for the first World Cup in Asia, there was not much hope from Die Mannschaft. They had suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of rivals England at Munich less than a year earlier. However, Khan had other ideas, as he conceded only one goal in six matches. In Germany’s Round of 16, quarter-final and semi-final matches, he kept a clean sheet which was instrumental as his team won all matches 1-0.
💯 days, 💯 players | Oliver Kahn
The commanding keeper kept 5 clean sheets in 6 games to drive 🇩🇪@DFB_Team_EN into the 2002 #WorldCup Final, where they lost to Brazil. @OliverKahn finished that tournament with the adidas Golden Ball – the only shot-stopper to win the award. pic.twitter.com/qYzlhEsbpo
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) April 22, 2018
And while Germany would lose the final to Brazil, Khan would win the Golden Glove and the Golden Ball awards after the best goalkeeping display ever at the FIFA World Cup.