So far, it’s been the goalkeepers who have been making the headlines in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
One-sided matches, such as the USA’s 13-0 demolition of Thailand and Italy’s 5-0 over Jamaica, showcase the attacking talent at the tournament – but also raise the question of the quality of goalkeepers representing weaker teams. However, in reverse of that, the best goalkeepers in the tournament have shone. Vanina Correa put in a player of the match performance against England’s Lionesses in the group stage. She saved a penalty and only conceded one goal in Argentina’s 1-0 loss. That was despite England having the majority of ball possession and far more attempts on goal. England manager Phil Neville said after the game, “their goalkeeper was incredible.” It hasn’t always been a success story for Correa. In 2007, she conceded 11 goals against Germany. It was the heaviest WWC defeat at the time, but her star performance v England shows that good goalkeeping is a matter of form and practice.
Another factor in the quality of goalkeeping at the women’s World Cup is height. The global average height of women is 5 feet 3 inches, which is around four and a half inches shorter than the mean height of men. Despite this, men and women both play with the same size goals. This leads to positioning errors occurring more frequently in the women’s game. Chile’s Christiane Endler received much praise despite her team losing 3-0 to USA. Her audacious saves during the game were the subject of media attention. Endler managed to keep the score respectable and avoid a repeat of the United States’ thrashing of Thailand. The PSG keeper plays in the Women’s Champions League against some of the world’s best players – and is 1.82m tall. In contrast the Thai keeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying measures just 1.65m (5ft 5in) and plays in the Thailand domestic league against weaker opposition.
Playing at the World Cup is a huge step up for both women and men. Look no further than England’s Robert Green, whose mistake in the 2010 World Cup led to him losing his place as number one. The 31-year-old Thailand goalkeeper has experienced a more positive reaction as has kept her place and has recovered her reputation by making some great saves. No keeper is immune from making mistakes. David De Gea from the men’s game was under criticism towards the end of the season for making mistakes which led to goals in four consecutive games despite being widely touted as the best goalkeeper in the world. Some stoppers make less mistakes than others, though.
Lastly, the importance of the strength of a team’s defending is hard to ignore. Almuth Schult has had a stellar World Cup group stage for Germany and has yet to concede a goal in 270 minutes. However, so far she has been forced into making very few saves. After winning the domestic double in Germany with Wolfsburg, Schult is playing to complete her collection of international medals by winning the World Cup for the first time. The debate for and against women having re-sized goals look set to continue, as goalkeepers might just be the most talked about position so far in this Women’s World Cup.