TOP 5… SAVES

Goalkeepers are widely regarded as being a bit bonkers; characters such as Campos, Chilavert, Higuita, Grobbelaar or even Big Neville Southall garnered reputations as figures of unusuality, unpredictability and controversy. Here though, I’ll be visiting the other end of the spectrum as I choose my favourite five saves of all time. Note however that in the interests of being a little more diverse, I have chosen to exclude both Gordon Banks’ immortal save from Pele in 1970, and David Seaman’s time-stopping brilliance against Stoke in the Cup. Enjoy!

1. Gregory Coupet vs. Barcelona, Champions League Group Stage, 2004

Every so often you see a piece of play that inspires the exclamation, “How the Hell has he done that!?” Roberto Carlos’ free-kick in ’97, Chris Iwelumo’s miss for Scotland in 2009, they all leave you with your hands on your head and your heart thumping. When Barcelona entertained Lyon in 2001’s Champions League the visitors were doing everything they could to repel the rampant hosts, and had succeeded well. Then, under pressure from Rivaldo, the defender sent a chipped ball back towards Coupet, but overcooked it and looped it up and over the ‘keeper’s head. Knowing that catching the ball could risk conceding a free-kick, Coupet tracked back and connected with a diving header that knocked the ball against his own bar and sent it looping high into the night sky. As Coupet clattered headfirst into his own goal Rivaldo closed in and executed a perfect bullet header on the dropping ball, driving it powerfully to Coupet’s right. The French ‘keeper had somehow recovered his footing and had just returned to the goal-line, when he threw himself desperately down to his right. Somehow he got a hand on the ball and it deflected out, to be cleared by the retreating defence. Fans, players and coaches alike stood open-mouthed at the impossible save they’d just seen. Barca went on to win, but that save will live forever as one of the greatest displays of inventiveness, determination and supreme reflexes in the history of goalkeeping.

2. Jim Montgomery vs. Leeds, FA Cup Final 1973
This one needs no introduction, but here’s one anyway. Sunderland were a goal up and trying to pull off one of the great Cup Final shocks, but Leeds were battering with all their considerable might. In the second half Leeds swung in a cross and Trevor Cherry nodded goalwards from close range. Montgomery instinctively palmed the ball away to his left, directly into the path of the unmarked and onrushing Peter Lorimer. Lorimer put his foot through the ball and for all intents and purposes appeared to have scored, but Montgomery was able to heave himself up off the ground and extend a hand, getting enough on the ball to tip it onto the underside of the bar. It bounced down and out and was cleared by Malone. The image of Trevor Cherry laying despondent on the Wembley turf sums up the save; it beggars belief that Montgomery got enough push out of his arms to heave himself up and into the path of the ball.

3. Rinat Dasaev vs. Scotland, World Cup Group Stage 1982
Widely regarded as the finest ever Soviet goalkeeper behind Lev Yashin, Rinat Dasaev’s frail frame cunningly masked a cat-like keeper, unrivalled in his generation for shot-stopping. In 1982, with Scotland requiring a win to advance to the second round (at the USSR’s expense) and the scores still level, the ball came forward down Scotland’s right. The cross was swung in and Joe Jordan stooped low to power a header to Dasaev’s left, the keeper apparently wrong-footed. Without missing a beat Dasaev seemed to roll his body and change direction, launching himself to his left and using his very fingertips to flick the ball around the base of the post and out for a corner. The game finished 2-2 and Scotland were eliminated on goal difference.

4. Bogdan Lobont vs. AC Milan, Champions League Quarter Final 2003
This is a controversial inclusion as debate continues to this day as to whether or not it crossed the line. In the first half with scores level Milan started an attack which led to a goalmouth scramble invloving several Ajax defenders and Andriy Shevchenko, who saw a shot blocked. The ball was eventually prodded out to Cristian Brocchi who hit a shot into the melee, which Romanian ‘keeper Bogdan Lobont appeared to have comfortably covered. However, the ball struck the thigh of John Heitinga and looped up and towards the top-left hand corner of the goal, with Lobont apparently stranded going the other way. Lobont switched direction and sprinted across his goal line towards the arcing ball, covering the last few feet with a desperate lunge that saw him claw the ball out from under the crossbar to Rui Costa, who could only power the rebound into the recovering John O’Brien. Replays were inconclusive as to whether the ball went in but for the sheer determination and effort put into it, Lobont’s save deserves the plaudits.

5. Peter Schmeichel vs. Arsenal, FA Cup Semi-Final Replay 1999
The moment that many began to believe that United were destined for the Treble. It’s the 92nd minute, a rip-roaring semi-final replay is deadlocked at 1-1 and destined for extra-time when suddenly Ray Parlour darts into the penalty area, only to be clattered by Phil Neville. The ref points at the spot and Highbury erupts in jubilation. Step forward Dennis Bergkamp, the man charged with simultaneously continuing Arsenal’s cup defence and destroying United’s Treble. He steps up nervously, having seen his last penalty saved a week before by Blackburn’s John Filan. Bergkamp puts it low to Schmeichel’s left, but somehow Schmeichel has read it and gets good hands to the ball, palming it away. The United end erupts and the dream survives. This match is always remembered for Giggs’ winner in extra time but it was Schmeichel’s lightning reflexes that even made it possible, and although he made better saves in his career, surely none were as important.

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