Keeper Calamities: 7 of the Most Memorable Goalkeeping Errors in Recent World Cup History

The loneliest position in all of football – goalkeeping. Errors made by keepers always seem to be scrutinised more severely than those of their outfield teammates, with some mistakes having the potential to ruin careers and tarnish reputations in the process.

While mishaps are part and parcel of the beautiful game, there can be no worse place to drop a clanger than under the glare of the World Cup. Watched by millions of fans around the globe, there’s no hiding place should a blunder take place, as these shot-stoppers unfortunately found out.

In the wake of David de Gea’s recent faux pas in Spain’s 3-3 draw against Portugal, here are seven of the most memorable goalkeeping errors in recent World Cup history.

1. Rene Higuita – 1990 World Cup vs Cameroon

Flamboyant, unusual and a bit mad, Colombia goalkeeper Rene Higuita was always a star attraction when he stepped onto the pitch, as his ‘scorpion kick’ save against England testifies, yet his high-profile gaffe at the 1990 World Cup was a result of his risky style of play. 

Already 1-0 down in extra time during a last 16 clash against Cameroon, Higuita was robbed of possession midway in his half by Roger Milla, who raced away from the embarrassed ‘keeper to score his second of the game, gracing the World Cup with his famous corner flag celebration in the process.

Colombia lost the game 2-1 as Bernardo Redin’s penalty was little more than a consolation, although the mistake would do little in halting Higuita’s cavalier approach for the remainder of his career. 

2. Pat Bonner – 1994 World Cup vs Netherlands

A legend for the Republic of Ireland national team after playing a major part in successive appearances in the knockout stages of the World Cup in 1990 and 1994, Pat Bonner would have a moment to forget in Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands in the last 16 at USA ’94. 

Already 1-0 down thanks to a Dennis Bergkamp strike, it looked to be staying that way as the game ticked towards half time, before Bonner allowed Wim Jonk’s strike from distance to squirm through his grasp, ending the game as a contest and Ireland’s World Cup adventure in the process.

It contrasted the mood four years prior, as Bonner’s save in a 1990 last 16 shootout against Romania helped Ireland to a first quarter final, highlighting the extreme highs and lows goalkeepers can experience. 

3. David Seaman – 2002 World Cup vs Brazil

While David Seaman is regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers England have ever produced, his blunder in a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil in 2002 is arguably the overriding memory of his time representing the Three Lions.

Whether Ronaldinho meant it or not, the midfield magician managed to to lob the Arsenal goalkeeper from all of 40 yards. No more than a few yards off his line, Seaman misjudged the ball, with his premature step forward meaning he was helpless as the effort drifting over him, resulting in Brazil’s second of the game, and ultimately the match winner.

The game finished 2-1 to end England’s hopes of World Cup glory, with Seaman’s tears after the final whistle a sentiment shared by fans back home.

4. Oliver Kahn – 2002 World Cup vs Brazil

Oliver Kahn was undoubtedly the world’s greatest goalkeeper during 2002, with his performances at that year’s World Cup only cementing those claims, although he had a moment to forget in the final against Brazil.

Spilling a routine shot from Rivaldo in the 67th minute, the ball fell to Ronaldo who took advantage of the gift to score his seventh goal of the tournament, before his eighth followed to confirm a 2-0 win, yet it was cruel for Kahn, who had been exceptional prior to the error.

The former Bayern Munich man had conceded only once prior to the final, while the award of FIFA’s Golden Ball – the only goalkeeper ever to win the award – would recognise his efforts in Asia despite his costly mistake.

5. Robert Green – 2010 World Cup vs USA

Heading to South Africa in 2010 as England’s first choice goalkeeper, Robert Green would’ve been looking forward to representing his nation at his first World Cup finals before the first group game against the USA, although his only appearance at a World Cup would be a disastrous one. 

Failing to deal with a daisy cutter from Clint Dempsey, the ball squirmed away from the then West Ham ‘keeper and trickled agonisingly over the line, cancelling out Steven Gerrard’s opener as the game ended 1-1.

Dropped for the remainder of the tournament, the draw proved costly as England finished behind the USA in Group C, meaning they faced Germany in the last 16 rather than Ghana – and we all know how that ended.

6. Igor Akinfeev – 2014 World Cup vs South Korea

2014’s World Cup will be one that Igor Akinfeev will want to eradicate from his memory, with a number of costly errors from the CSKA Moscow man resulting in Russia exiting the tournament at the group stage.

His most memorable came in their first game of Group H against South Korea, as a long range strike from Lee Keun-ho should’ve been a routine stop for the Russian. Instead, Akinfeev couldn’t to keep hold of the ball, which found it’s way over and past the ‘keeper, despite his best efforts to rectify the clanger.

Akinfeev was reprieved as Russia found a leveller to earn a point, although another mistake in the final group game against Algeria proved to be more significant. His failure to claim a free kick gifted Islam Slimani an equaliser; a goal that would take the African side to the knockout stages at the expense of Russia. 

7. David de Gea – 2018 World Cup vs Portugal

The most recent blunder on this list, David de Gea’s error against Portugal during Spain’s Group B opener in the Iberian Derby goes to show that even the best can make mistakes when a World Cup is at stake.

On the stroke of half time, Cristiano Ronaldo’s fired a low effort straight at the Manchester United man, although De Gea’s hands weren’t strong enough to keep the ball out, diverting it into the goal for Portugal’s and Ronaldo’s second of the game.

De Gea however almost got away with his mistake as Spain led 3-2 with two minutes remaining, before Ronaldo completed his hat-trick with a stunning free kick, meaning La Roja had to settle for a point when they should’ve left Sochi with three. 

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