Finalists’ keepers in focus
Quality of goalkeeping at France 2019 has been widely lauded
Alyssa Naeher and Sari van Veenendaal two of the best on show
Our USA and Netherlands Team Reporters assess the duo
Of all the success stories to emanate from this FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the standard of goalkeeping has been among the most notable.
Where once the shortcomings in this position were seized upon by critics of women’s football, those detractors have now fallen silent – and for good reason. The overall level of Women’s World Cup goalkeeping performances has reached an all-time high here in France, with the impact of increased professionalism and better coaching plain for all to see.
No two keepers exemplify this better than Alyssa Naeher and Sari van Veenendaal, who will keep goal in Sunday’s Final for USA and the Netherlands respectively. While both have impressed throughout the tournament, each saved their best performances for their teams' biggest matches thus far - emerging as the stars of the semi-final wins over England and Sweden. Ahead of the Lyon decider, we got our Team Reporters to give us the lowdown on their sides’ star No1s.
Alyssa Naeher [[flag-usa-s]]
Age: 31 Club: Chicago Red Stars France 2019 shutouts: 3
What she brings to USA
Naeher would admit herself that she didn’t need to contribute much during the group phase. In fact, the US have conceded only three goals across the entire tournament, and their keeper has made a total of just 12 saves. But ten of those saves have come in the knockout phase, and it has been in these matches that Naeher - an intense keeper diligent in her preparation – has really shown her worth.
“The mentality and the focus stays the same regardless of who the opponent is,” Naeher told FIFA.com. “We play games where sometimes I’ll touch the ball in the first minute, and sometimes I won’t touch the ball until the 89th minute. But for me the focus stays the same.”
Best save at France 2019
While Naeher’s most talked-about stop was her 84th-minute penalty save against England, which sent USA into a third straight Final, her best came in the first half of the same match. Shortly after Alex Morgan had opened the scoring, the Lionesses looked set to respond quickly when Kiera Walsh struck a spinning shot that looked to be heading for the top-right corner. But Naeher adjusted her feet, leapt across goal and somehow tipped it away for a corner.
Erin Fish with USA
Sari van Veenendaal [[flag-ned-s]]
Age: 29 Club: Free agent France 2019 shutouts: 3
What she brings to The Netherlands
It was unclear in the build-up to this tournament whether Van Veenendaal would even be the Netherlands’ first-choice goalkeeper, with a neck-and-neck race for the position with Loes Geurts having played out throughout the qualifiers. But Van Veenendaal ultimately earned the starting spot, and has shown why with her performances at France 2019.
The big keeper played a major role in the Dutch victory at the UEFA Women’s EURO in 2017, and seems to relish the big occasions. She can also often be seen - and heard - encouraging her team-mates both before and during matches, and is well known for her passionate pre-match yell on the pitch. But Van Veenendaal’s biggest contribution has come in the shape of her match-defining saves in the knockout phase, without which the Netherlands might not even be in the Final.
Best save at France 2019
Van Veenendaal has made has made a few crucial saves for her team at this World Cup, but probably none as important as the 80th-minute stop in the Oranjeleeuwinnen’s Round-of-16 game against Japan. With the score 1-1, and the Nadeshiko creating chance after chance, Yuka Momiki found some space in the box and fired in a shot that looked certain to end up in the bottom corner. But the Dutch goalkeeper kept her team in the match with a magnificent diving save, paving the way for victory to be snatched through Lieke Martens’ late penalty.