World Cup 2022: Why goalkeepers have been the key to success, explained

Soccer may be all about scoring goals, but it’s the goalkeepers who have shined brightest at this World Cup in Qatar. Data released by FIFA explains why.

Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Luka Modric may get all the love at this World Cup, but it’s the goalkeepers who have been the biggest highlight at this tournament.

In a sport where goals matter most, it has been the men tasked with stopping those shots that have helped their sides reach the World Cup semifinals, according to data released by FIFA’s Technical Study Group assembled in Doha.

Those goalkeepers include Morocco’s Yassine Bounou, who has given up just one goal through five games. At the same time, Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez and Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic were key in their respective teams’ run to the semifinals.

“It is comforting to us that goalkeepers are showing courage at this World Cup,” said former Colombia goalie Faryd Mondragon, who is a member of the study group.

For example, the group pointed out during a news conference on Monday that goalies have had a penalty save rate of 36% during games, a figure that does not include shootouts. That’s up from 17% compared to the 2018 World Cup.

At the same time, the penalty save rate through the quarterfinals when it comes to shootouts has been 34%, up from 25% compared to 2018.

Goalkeepers could decide this World Cup

Goalkeepers, the group noted, are also more involved in the buildup of offensive plays and possession. They have also played higher up the field and the ball with their feet more, a trend that was started at the 2014 World Cup when Germany won the title playing a higher defensive line.

“Goalkeepers who brought their national teams to the semifinals have been decisive, not only saves during the game, being part of the buildup but also in the penalty shootout,” Mondragon noted.

Goalkeeping success is only part of the story. Former USMNT and Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who heads the group, said the order by which player take their kicks in the shootout matter.

“Set the tone with the best penalty taker you have [first], then go down the rankings,” Klinsmann said. “Maybe that was another reason why [Brazil lost].”

Croatia defeated Brazil in a shootout to advance to the semifinals. In that shootout, Neymar, Brazil’s best player, was fifth in the order of kickers and never even got a chance to take a shot after Croatia clinched the win.

The World Cup final will be contested on Sunday at Lusail Stadium just outside Doha. Which team will win it all depends on a variety of factors.

“It’s a tournament of adaptation,” Klinsmann said of this World Cup. “If you can adapt from game to game, and to all the circumstances around you, you can go far.”

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