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Top 10 Goalkeepers of All Time

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lev_yashin.jpgA goalkeeper invokes in us a wide spectrum of emotions, ranging from the spectacular to the abysmal. After all, which football fan doesn't like a flying goalkeeper making saves; which are surreal, at the very least? In the light of the extremes in which goalkeepers are evaluated and remembered, it is hardly a surprise that their specimens have hogged a fair bit of limelight in football folklore.

In the history of professional football, numerous goalkeepers have threatened to touch immortality, but only a handful have actually come close. The following ten great names are different from the rest of the goalkeeping gentry by the mere fact that they knocked on the door to immortality day in and day out.

1. Lev Yashin
Playing Career: 1950-70
National Team: Soviet Union, 150 appearances
Clubs: Dynamo Moscow, 326 appearances
Honours: European Championship 1960, Olympics Gold Medal 1956

The erstwhile Soviet Union keeper has been universally acknowledged as the finest goal custodian ever. His aura was there to be seen and felt as mere stats don't do him enough justice. Not that his stats are not noteworthy; just that his genius couldn't be captured by data alone. He was a loyal servant to his club Dynamo Moscow (the only team represented by him in his illustrious career). He donned the national colours for a record 150 times. His skills in saving penalties were a point of wonder among his contemporaries. In the light of his outstanding career, FIFA introduced the Lev Yashin Award in 1994 for the best goalkeeper of each World Cup.

2. José Luis Félix Chilavert González

Playing Career: 1985-2004
National Team: Paraguay, 74 appearances
Clubs: Sportivo Luqueño, Club Guaraní, San Lorenzo de Almagro, Real Zaragoza, Vélez Sársfield, RC Strasbourg, Peñarol
Honours: Argentine League Player of the Year: 1996, South American Footballer of the Year: 1996, IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper: 1995, 1997, 1998

The Paraguayan keeper was a rarity in the sense that he was a goal scoring goalkeeper. A dead ball specialist, Chilavert used to deliver in the opposition's half, as well. His free kicks and penalty kicks were a revelation to the football world. He scored a staggering 62 goals in his playing career. Little wonder then that he has eight international goals in his kitty (four of them came in Paraguay's qualification for World Cup 2002). Real Zaragoza, San Lorenzo, Racing Strasbourg etc. are some of the clubs he graced with his commanding presence on either side of the football pitch. He represented Paraguay 74 times.

3. Oliver Kahn
Playing Career: 1987-2007
National Team: Germany, 86 appearances
Clubs: Karlsruher SC (128 appearances), FC Bayern Munich (429 appearances)
Honours: UEFA European Championship 1996, UEFA Cup: 1996, UEFA Champions League: 2001, Intercontinental Cup: 2001

Kahn is without doubt the grand daddy of goalkeepers; in skill and in age, too. The German's longevity and consistently peerless displays for both club and country have earned him a name in the hallowed portals of football history. A leader on and off the pitch, Kahn's virtuoso performances took Germany to the 2002 World Cup finals where they got beaten by Brazil. His contribution fetched him the Golden Ball Award; a first for any keeper. He may have retired now, but the Oliver Kahn folklore promises to live forever.

4. Gordon Banks
Playing Career: 1955-78
National Team: England, 73 appearances
Clubs: Chesterfield, Leicester City, Stoke City, Cleveland Stokers, St Patrick's Athletic, Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Honours: World Cup 1966, OBE 1970

The "Bank of England", as he was popularly known in his heydays, was arguably the best shot stopper the game has ever seen. His reflexes were a treat to watch and impossible to match. Such was his dominance in the 1966 World Cup that he conceded two goals in the entire competition! Most of his club career was at Leicester City. His superhuman save from a superb Pele header has been framed in the archives and revered by the goalkeeping fraternity. His effervescent smile and his friendly demeanour concealed the ultra competitive spirit bubbling within him.

5. Dino Zoff
Playing Career: 1961-83
National Team: Italy, 112 appearances
Clubs: Udinese, Mantova, Napoli, Juventus
Honours: World Cup 1982, European Football Championship 1968

The Italian custodian is the oldest World Cup winner when he captained Italy to win the Cup in 1982 at the age of 40! A man, who led by example and was capable of raising the game of his teammates by the sheer weight of his performances, was worth his weight in gold. He holds the record for the longest playing time without allowing goals in international tournaments (1142 minutes) set between 1972 and 1974. In his time with Juventus, Zoff was a revelation. He bagged six Serie A titles and one UEFA Championship there. He donned the national colours 112 times.

6. Sepp Maier
Playing Career: 1965-80
National Team: West Germany, 95 appearances
Clubs: Bayern Munich, 536 appearances
Honours: European Cup: 1974, 1975, 1976 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup: 1967, Intercontinental Cup: 1976, World Cup: 1974, European Championship: 1972

A legend in German football, Maier was a stalwart in the goal. He played a vital role in West Germany's World Cup win in 1974. He represented Bayern Munich and created a record of playing 422 consecutive games for them. His was a dominant presence in the box, so much so that it was once said that strikers froze in his presence! He has continued the good work by donning the national colours again, this time as the goalkeeping coach of the German national team. In October 2004, his contract with the national side was terminated by coach Jürgen Klinsmann after Maier spoke out in favour of Bayern's Oliver Kahn over Jens Lehmann in a dispute over who should be the side's first-choice goalkeeper. Maier retired from Bayern Munich in 2008.

7. Gianluigi Buffon
Playing Career: 1995-
National Team: Italy, 90 appearances (and still counting)
Clubs: Parma, Juventus
Honours: World Cup 2006

Tipped by many to take the ‘Best goalkeeper ever' slot, Buffon is a purist's delight. His tall and imposing figure is intimidating for the opposition. He won the Azzuris the World Cup in 2006 with a fantastic display and was rightly honoured with the Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper. His displays at his club Juventus have won him awards and recognition by all. With his prime years yet to come, it is a treat to even imagine his future performances.

8. Peter Schmeichel
Playing Career: 1981-2001
National Team: Denmark, 129 appearances
Clubs: Gladsaxe-Hero, Hvidovre IF, Brøndby, Manchester United, Sporting CP, Aston Villa, Manchester City
Honours: UEFA European Championship 1992, UEFA Champions League 1998-99

The big Dane keeper was a formidable opponent in the penalty box. In his time at Manchester United, he scaled the peaks of success in the truest sense of the term. He won the UEFA Champions League with United with his virtuoso performances throughout the tournament. Not surprisingly, he is the most capped Denmark player with 129 appearances. His breathtaking skills in one-on-one situation against the best of strikers were a sight to behold and cherish.

9. Edwin van der Sar
Playing Career: 1990-
National Team: Netherlands, 130 appearances
Clubs: Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, Manchester United
Honours: UEFA Intertoto Cup 1999 and 2002, Uefa Champions League 2007-08

A modern great, Van der Sar is the epitome of perfectionism. The very fact that he is playing for Manchester United, a top club in Europe at the age of 39 is a testimony to his talent; and, of course, endurance. Van der Sar resurrected his career in a move which had its fair share of doubters. In absence of regular first team football, Van der Sar shifted base to low profile Fulham from the European giants Juventus. His consistent performances at Fulham earned him a move to English giants Manchester United. He recently caught the limelight of the football world by his record number of clean sheets. The fact that this record was achieved without a stable back four makes it even more praiseworthy.

10. Andoni Zubizarreta
Playing Career: 1979-98
National Team: Spain, 126 appearances
Clubs: Deportivo Alavés, Atletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF
Honours: European Super Cup 1993

The former Spanish and Barcelona keeper was a rare breed who was adept in making reflexive saves with a rather unnerving consistency. He represented Spain in four consecutive World Cups; a feat not many goalkeepers can boast of. He played for some of the leading clubs of Spanish La Liga including Atletic Bilbao, Valencia CF, FC Barcelona etc. He won six Spanish league titles and one UEFA Champion's League. His 622 Liga matches is the all-time appearance record.