While goalkeeping wasn't the highlight of the World Cup final, there were many outstanding performances in the lead up to the final game. Some goalkeepers reserved their best for penalty shootouts to pad their highlight reels, some were consistently aiding their team regardless of the scoreline, and some goalkeepers managed to undermine their previous performances by watching multiple shots slip by them in the World Cup Final. In spite of the mixed performances, here are the top ten goalkeepers from the 2018 World Cup.
1. Yann Sommer (Switzerland)
While Sommer technically did have an own goal off a late penalty in a meaningless group game, he more than redeemed himself with a strong performance against Brazil and Serbia. He would go on to pull off a wonderful sprawling save off a low header in the 6th minute to keep Costa Rica out and another similar save stopping a bouncing ball to the backpost against Sweden. Sommer, barely standing at 6’0”, is a great example of a goalkeeper who can cover the entire goal width without relying on his size. The tournament's Golden Glove recipient typically has to finish in the top four but it was Sommer who stood high above the rest.
2. Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
Probably the highlight of Akinfeev’s tournament was outclassing David de Gea in the penalty shootout, winning Man of the Match for his heroics in the round of sixteen matchup. He would go on perform admirably against Croatia, saving a penalty in the second round of the shootout, and despite being down 2-0 in Russia’s last group game, Akinfeev managed to pull off a wonderful tophand save on a blistering strike from Cristian Rodríguez. A classic strong, tall goalkeeper, Akinfeev did well to represent the host country by limiting mistakes and rising to the occasion more than once to help Russia notch their best World Cup finish since 1982.
3. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
There was a lot of talk about goals being scored in the final minutes this World Cup but Courtois reversed the script when Neymar attempted to level the score in the quarterfinal matchup. It’s hard to imagine any goalkeeper shorter than 6’6” making that tophand save. Earlier in the match, Courtois pulled off two good close-range shots in quasi-1v1 situations, simply by holding his ground and not rushing out blind, but it was the flicked near post header that bested Courtois against France. It was a tough post-to-post run Courtois was trying to make but there’s no doubt he would want a second chance at the goal. If he gets his feet set quicker instead of taking a big hop into place, he can parry the shot away. Still, the Golden Glove winner can look back proudly on his performances as large contributions to Belgium's best World Cup run to date.
4. Jordan Pickford (England)
Most people were talking Pickford’s passing ability heading into the tournament but it was his clutch saving prowess that led the English to a fourth place finish. Against Colombia - in extra time, no less - it was the unbelievable Gumby save where he pulled the ball out of the corner. Against Sweden, he shut the door twice on the Swedes on two well-hit shots inside the 18. And against Croatia, Pickford exchanged some not-so-nice words after denying a point bank save from Mandžukić. It’s hard to imagine this was the same Pickford who started for Everton and conceded 58 goals last season, eight most in the Premier League. Blues fans will surely have different expectations going into this fall after such a wonderful performance this summer.
5. Eiji Kawashima (Japan)
There’s some sort of irony with Kawashima’s best game coming in a 1-0 loss but the Japanese goalkeeper couldn’t allow another goal if Japan wanted to play in the knockout round. In the first half, Kawashima himself ended up in the back of the net batting a flicker header towards the back post back into play. (VAR would later verify the immaculate save.) Then in the second half, Kawashima would pull off an equally impressive strong palm on a deflected cross, saving his defender from scoring an own goal and keeping Japan's hopes of entering the next round alive. While Kawashima’s performances in the other games were largely forgettable, the Poland game will surely be a bright spot on the 35-year-old’s tenure with Japan.
6. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
A good game against Germany, a soft goal against Sweden, and a great game against Brazil add up to find Ochoa at the six slot. The most polarizing goalkeeper on the list, Ochoa somehow always matches the level of competition. Ochoa kicked off his World Cup with a shutout against Germany, highlighted by a topnotch free kick-denying save, and ended his tournament with a hard-fought 2-0 loss to Brazil. Although it was a loss, Ochoa continued his fiction-esque level of play against Brazil, building off of the 2007 Copa America win and the 2014 World Cup tie against Brazil. Ochoa’s success doesn’t make sense from a technical standpoint and his future with the national team seems to be running out, but viewers can’t deny he had another clutch tournament performance for the Mexican national team.
7. Jo Hyeon-Woo (South Korea)
Jo entered the tournament as a relatively unknown goalkeeper playing somewhere in South Korea and only six national caps to his name yet somehow walked away from the tournament with a stellar performance against Sweden and a shutout against Germany. The 26-year-old showcased a really fun spring to his leap and quick footwork to frustrate opposing offenses. He plays with a fairly high line and while I’m not sure how that’s going to fit into his game - he’s not exactly the tallest goalkeeper out there - his agility helps him cover ground that lumbering goalkeepers can’t.
8. Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)
It hurts my heart to have him this low on the list. His string of penalty saves against Croatia paired with continual shots of his father cheering from the press box was exactly the snowballing ability I wrote about before the tournament started. Unfortunately, an in-game penalty save and two more in the shootout weren't enough to get Denmark through to the quarterfinals. He lands at number eight for having an otherwise quiet World Cup but the main highlight to take away from his World Cup was that Kasper Schmeichel officially stepped out of his father’s shadow and put to rest the idea that he was just riding his father's fame, even though it felt like the magic ended well before midnight in Denmark's World Cup run.
9. Manuel Neuer (Germany)
It wasn't exactly a world beater that bested Neuer in the opening game against Mexico but it was Neuer standing on his head that helped propel his nation to victory against Sweden, highlighted by a strong palm before halftime to parry away a drifting header. Even though his last touch was a turnover that led to the final goal against Germany - somehow 80 yards upfield, of course - we saw flashes of the four-time IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper that hopefully provided enough nostalgia for fans wanting to see the Bayern keeper excel on the international stage at least one more time. Neuer won't look back fondly on the tournament and it's clear the injury didn't help his World cup preparations, but all-in-all it was a positive individual performance, even if it's overshadowed by the rest of his career.
10. Hugo Lloris (France)
Ahead of the tournament, many had some serious questions about Lloris’ ability to handle the ball at his feet and somehow Lloris proved them right yet still won the World Cup. Lloris was perhaps one goalkeeping error away from winning the Golden Glove, an award typically given to the top team with the goalkeeper who didn't make any dumb mistakes, but he graciously let Courtois take home the honor. It's easy to get caught up in the blunder but Lloris did his part to help France reach the Final. To his credit, he basically did nothing all game against Uruguay and Belgium yet pulled off two saves that were destined for the back of the net. It's a little bit of a head scratcher that he was able to maintain enough focus to make immaculate saves on a moments notice yet botch a stupid step over in the most important game of his career but it's Lloris who has a World Cup medal to his name at the end of the day.