Destiny in their hands
© AFP

It is often claimed that attacking players receive a disproportionate amount of attention from fans and media alike. Indeed, despite his inspirational displays at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, some still expressed surprise when Fabio Cannavaro was voted FIFA World Player for 2006; the first defender to win the coveted prize.

But while Oliver Kahn's second-place finish in 2002 remains the closest a goalkeeper has come to the global award, there could have been few complaints had Spain's Iker Casillas taken the 2008 honours. Though the prize eventually went to a worthy winner in Cristiano Ronaldo, San Iker (Saint Iker) can look back with pride on a year that included league title success with Real Madrid and captaining La Selección to victory at UEFA EURO 2008 as well as underlining his status among Planet Football's finest custodians.

Also included in that select club are Italy and Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon and Inter Milan's Brazilian shotstopper Julio Cesar, both of whom are expected to join Casillas as their countries' first-choice keepers at the forthcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2009. All of which is a tantalising prospect for eager followers of the goalkeeping art, though less so for strikers looking make their name on South African soil between 14 and 28 June.

USA's record-breaker 
Of course, the illustrious trio are not the only No1s looking to lay sturdy foundations for their teams at South Africa 2009. Between the sticks for the host nation should be Rowen Fernandez of Bundesliga outfit Arminia Bielefeld, though he has faced a strong challenge of late from up-and-coming shotstopper Itumeleng Khune.

Egypt, for their part, can call on the safe hands of Essam El Hadary, a winner of three editions of the CAF African Cup of Nations and a three-time African Champions League victor with former club Al Ahly. Nor must we forget 32-year-old Mark Paston, whose experience of football in England, Scotland and his native New Zealand should serve him well for the task ahead. 

Tim Howard of CONCACAF Gold Cup holders the United States, meanwhile, goes into this June's showpiece on the back of an outstanding season for Everton. The former Manchester United man helped the Merseyside outfit reach the FA Cup final and finish fifth in the English top flight, accruing a club record 17 Premier League clean sheets in the process.

Wearing the Iraqi No1 jersey, meanwhile, is Noor Sabri, who conceded just twice as his country pulled off a surprise AFC Asian Cup triumph in 2007. Sabri is also a useful asset in shoot-out situations, having scored his effort in Iraq's 2005 West Asian Games decider against Syria and saved a spot-kick against Korea Republic in the semi-finals of the aforementioned Asian Cup.

Revenge mission
Returning to Casillas and Buffon, we find an intriguing sub-plot that links two men who both broke into top-flight football while still in their teens, at Madrid and Parma respectively. The duo clashed at last summer's EURO in Austria and Switzerland, with Casillas and La Roja coming out on top in a penalty shoot-out and breaking Spain's quarter-final 'jinx' at major tournaments in the process. With the two European behemoths drawn in separate groups here in South Africa, Buffon and world champions Italy will be out for revenge should the pair's paths cross in the latter stages.

Julio Cesar, meanwhile, goes into the showpiece event on the back of a fourth successive Serie A title with Inter, as well as a series of outstanding displays in Brazil's charge to the top of the South American qualifying standings for next summer's FIFA World Cup finals. With spot-kick prowess part-and-parcel of tournament football,  what price Julio Cesar, a key figure in the Seleção's victory over Argentina on penalties in the 2004 Copa America final, being the hero again at South Africa 2009?

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