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Many say that the goalkeeper is the most important player on the field. Their performance can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a game. And any hesitation or delay on their part can mean the difference between a win or a loss. With this in mind, here are the three greatest ball custodians in soccer’s history.
Nicknamed the Black Spider for his black attire (he even used to wear goalkeeper gloves in the hue) Lev Yashin played for Dynamo Moscow from 1950 to 1970 (unlike many other soccer stars, he only ever played for one club). Throughout his career, he played 395 games for the club and represented it at three World Cups, winning gold for the Soviet Union at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne (the first World Cup to be broadcasted internationally). Yashin is known for his offensive style of defense—instead of waiting for the action to come to him, he would leave his line to intercept crosses and meet oncoming attackers. Yashin has received numerous accolades, including the Ballon d’Or—he has been the only goalkeeper in history to receive one. He has also been named the best goalkeeper of the 20th century by the IFFHS. When questioned about the secret of his success, Yashin famously responded: “have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles.”
The only goalkeeper to ever win the Golden Ball, which he was awarded at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Kahn spent 14 years playing for Bayern Munich. While playing for the club, he won the 2001 Championship League, eight league cups and six national cups. Kahn was frequently nicknamed The Titan or King Khan due to his stamina, discipline and aggressive playing style. Probably the best known moment in Kahn’s 21-year football career came when he saved a penalty shot in the 2001 Champions League final, helping Bayern secure their first European Cup in 25 years. Another highlight was his performance at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea/Japan where his skills ensured his team’s spot in the finals.
Hailing from Denmark, Peter Schmeichel is probably most famous for his eight years with Manchester United, where he won the 1999 Champions League Final, five Premier League titles and three FA Cups. Over his career, he has also played for Brondby and Sporting Lisbon. Significantly, the Dane has also won the 1992 European Championship with Denmark and holds 129 national caps. Rather intimidating in the penalty area, Schmeichel is well known for what some refer to as ‘starfish,’ or star jump, saves. The IFFHS voted Schmeichel the World’s Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993, and ranked him among the top ten goalkeepers of the 20th century in 2000 and 2001. He has also won the accolade of the best goalkeeper ever in a 200,000-participant poll held by Reuters. Interestingly, Schmeichel often ventured into the opposition’s area when his team was losing and even scored 11 goals throughout his career.