FORGET the Golden Boot – the Golden Glove is where the real battle is in this World Cup.
The strikers always grab the headlines; even the bad ones.
Short of calling for toothy Uruguayan Luis Suarez to wear a FIFA-sponsored mouth shield in future, there can’t be much else to write about him.
We are in danger of running out of superlatives to describe Lionel Messi and James “Ham-ez” Rodriguez, while Thomas Muller, Neymar, Karim Benzema and Robin Van Persie are still bound to have a say in the quarter-finals.
Unlike most other World Cups I can think of, however, it is the goalkeepers who have been the truly outstanding individuals.
Major tournaments seldom bring out the best in the keepers, and the famous mistakes stick in the memory.
From David Seaman’s lead-footed attempt to get a hand on Ronaldinho’s free kick in 2002 to Argentina’s Nerry Pumpido and his ridiculous fumble over the line against Cameroon in 1990, there is always one howler that defines a tournament.
Russia’s Igor Akinfeev probably secured that accolade with his work in the group stages. I have seen Subbuteo figures with better handling.
But providing the counter-balance has been a string of virtuoso performances from some less-than household names.
Algeria’s Rais M’Bohli, Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas and Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa seem to have appeared from nowhere. I can picture their agent thumbing through the Lamborghini catalogues as we speak.
Others are more familiar but have produced just as spectacular results.
Chile stopper Claudio Bravo was fairly well-known after spending a long time in Spain with Real Sociedad but has shown why Barcelona have moved to sign him.
And we know all about Tim Howard of the US and Everton. He also has quite a good right foot on him – just ask Adam Bogdan.
With France facing Germany tonight I’m also reminded of another bit of World Cup goalkeeping folklore.
Remember West Germany’s Harold Schumacher and his horrendous challenge on Patrick Battiston? I don’t, I was three. I have seen it on YouTube, though, and it still amazes me that he wasn’t punished further.
Schumacher’s Wikipedia article claims that a French newspaper once asked its readers who was the most unpopular person in the country. The keeper managed to beat Adolf Hitler into second place.
Manuel Neuer – who has himself had an excellent tournament – has threatened to “do a Harold” on a couple of occasions, as he continues to sweep up behind a static German defence.
His back four, who all have the turning circle of a Panzer tank, look susceptible to pace and that’s why I’m tipping the French this evening.
In the other quarter-final I have to plump for Brazil. I’d love to see Rodriguez score a couple but it would be disastrous for the competition if the hosts went out just yet.