Tim Krul ushers in World Cup's revenge of the goalkeeper

Brazil's 2014 World Cup started with a binge of goals. There were too many to count. But lo and behold, we have arrived at the moment of the keeper's revenge, Andrew Davidson writes.

Keepers rule in late stages of Brazil 2014

Goalkeeper Tim Krul of the Netherlands saves a shot by Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz during a penalty shootout in their 2014 World Cup quarter-finals at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, Brazil. Krul, a last-minute substitute, has been hailed for his heroics and criticized for talking to Costa Rica's kick-takers before they shot. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

Brazil's 2014 World Cup started with a binge of goals. There were too many to count. 

Remember Netherlands-Spain? That match buried the world champions. The final score shamed a goalkeeping legend, Iker Casillas, who was left to watch as his lauded centre-backs swam in front of him like a pair of wine-plumped jesters. 

The group stage set a record for most goals scored and we applauded. We watched Casillas ripped apart for our entertainment, then Italy's GiGi Buffon, and again we roared.

Lo and behold, we have arrived at the moment of the keeper's revenge.

First, while still in the group stage, Mexico's unheralded and unemployed Memo Ochoa showed his brilliance against home favourite Brazil, then Costa Rica's Keylor Navas, so far the best goalkeeper of the tournament, almost singlehandedly sent Greece packing back to Athens. 

Heroes, Howard and Germany's libero

Against Belgium, the United States' Tim Howard played the game every goalkeeper dreams of playing — and still he lost. There are kids in Phoenix and Cleveland and Portland and Minneapolis right now who dream of being Tim Howard, and will continue until they make the U.S. national team and are better than him.

United States goalkeeper Tim Howard gestures at his players during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, in which he faced a record 27 shots on goal. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Germany's Manuel Neuer excelled in his libero sweeper-keeper role against Algeria, exploding out of his box to rescue a high line of defenders caught surprised by Algeria's pace, in a match that Algerian keeper Rais M'bolhi forced into extra time through numerous saves.

'All hail General Krul'

Then came Tim Krul. Before this past weekend, Krul was an unused backup in the Netherlands squad, best known for occasionally making the Premier League highlight reels when his Newcastle defenders took naps. Upon hearing his name, some likely recalled the unseen thug dictator who censored the letters of Lisa Simpson's penpal: "All hail General Krul and his glorious regime! Sincerely, Little Girl."

Krul played less than a minute of official time against Costa Rica. But his heroics, which some have dismissed as antics, changed the match, and the Netherlands' destiny in Brazil.

He approached the Costa Rican penalty takers and told them he knew where they were going. Then he took a slow walk in one direction, then dived in the other. For anyone who's faced penalties, it was wonderful.

Nothing wrong with Krul's trash talk

And why shouldn't he have talked to them? There's never been a cone of silence imposed on soccer — surely not for the salsa dancers and pre-choreographed goal-dance spectacles that swarm around a corner flag while a keeper plucks the ball out of his net. Other keepers, including Krul's opposite Navas, flail and gesticulate on the line to distract and gain advantage.

The entire sport glorifies the scorer and often crucifies the one who makes a mistake while trying to prevent it. One bobbled cross, one howler or rebound — and careers are doomed. Penalties, especially in elimination rounds, are more than the great equalizer; they are the goalkeeper's delicious cake tray of vengeance.

So Krul studied. He watched video. He waited. Then he pounced. The headline writers delighted, as their vault of puns had been cracked open.

Some have lamented Dutch coach Lous van Gaal's treatment of his starting No. 1, Jasper Cillessen, who just minutes before the shootout salvaged the Netherlands' entire World Cup with a point-blank save. But no one on the Dutch sidelines was cheering harder than Cillessen when Krul stopped those penalties.

Why? Because Cillessen knew he would get another chance to wear the gloves with everything on the line, to make or break a match, to be the difference.

Revenge, friends. All hail Krul.

Andrew Davidson is a senior producer for and an aging, average goalkeeper in Toronto's cutthroat recreational leagues.


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