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Goalkeepers save the day at World Cup

It’s dangerous in front of the net when the penalties start flying
July 13,2018
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From left: Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, second from right, makes a save against France during the semifinal match on Tuesday. England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, right, catches the ball during the semifinal match against Croatia on Wednesday. Korea’s goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, makes a save during a group match against Germany on June 27. [AP/YONHAP]
A football team is only ever as good as its goalkeeper. It’s not a glamorous position - many goalies will only ever make headlines when things go wrong - but the goalkeeper is always a team’s last line of defense. That’s especially true during penalties, and the 2018 Russia World Cup has already seen its share of penalty shootouts.

“If a [team] has a weak goalkeeper, then they can’t advance to the top level,” said Lee Woon-jae, the goalkeeper of the Korean football team during the 2002 World Cup. “The Russia World Cup is showing that.”

The Croatian team, who unexpectedly powered their way through the World Cup to earn their place in the final, has benefited hugely from the skill of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Of the four teams that made it to the semifinals - Croatia, France, Belgium and England - the Croatian side was the only one to survive two penalty shootouts to get there.

In the round of 16 Croatia tied with Denmark to go to penalties. Subasic survived the pressure, saving three out of five shots to lead the team to the quarterfinals. Another tie with Russia once again left Subasic on his own between the posts, despite an earlier hamstring injury.

He earned his starting spot on the national team at age 30. For most of his career, Subasic was the number two goalie as Stipe Pletikosa had the No. 1 shirt until 2014. Subasic has more than proven his worth - he was once again in goal when Croatia defeated England 2-1 on Wednesday to advance to the final for the first time in the country’s history.

Hugo Lloris has already proven his worth to the French football team. The veteran player has 103 international caps and has worn the captain’s armband throughout the World Cup, leading his team to the final. Lloris has only let five goals in throughout the tournament, and neither Uruguay nor Belgium was able to get a goal past the French goalie in the quarter and semifinals. Lloris’ impenetrable goalkeeping ensured that France advanced to the final for the first time since 2006.

France and Croatia will compete in the World Cup final at Luhzniki Stadium in Moscow in the early hours of the morning on Monday, July 16, Korea time.

“If a goalkeeper makes a save, it’s like the team scored a goal so it encourages the players,” Lee said.

England’s Jordan Pickford also had an outstanding World Cup. Pickford is a young goalkeeper who only debuted for the England team in November last year. Having only played in three national matches prior to the World Cup, he was expected to be little more than a bench warmer. However, England’s manager Gareth Southgate made a surprise decision to start Pickford instead of Joe Hart, who has played in 75 international matches.

Pickford quickly proved that Southgate was right by leading the team to a win in the round of 16 during a penalty shootout against Colombia. Prior to the win against Colombia, England had lost three consecutive shootouts during knockout stages of previous World Cups.

“Pickford is young but courageous,” said Kim Byung-ji, a former Korean national team goalkeeper.

England will now play for the third place finish against Belgium at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Russia at 11 p.m. on Saturday, Korea time.

Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois made impressive saves to lead his team to a 2-1 victory over five-time World Cup champion Brazil. Courtois has shown strength against shots aimed at the top of the net.

Korea’s goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo also left the World Cup with his head held high. Though Korea failed to advance to the knockout stage after losing 1-0 to Sweden and 2-0 to Mexico, Jo showed his strength in the match against Germany, shutting down any chance of scoring a goal. Jo was selected as the man of the match for the game and was even selected by BBC readers as the goalkeeper for a “best eleven” team based on group stage results.

BY PARK RIN, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]