Which saves were the hardest to make, according to Goalkeeper-xG data?
The return of the Premier League and other major European divisions will soon be upon us, but the period between Sunday's spectacle of a final and Boxing Day has allowed the footballing world to begin to process the events of the last month with more clarity.
It's safe to say that the standard of goalkeeping in Qatar surpassed the level seen at most World Cups to date. And, this year's goalkeepers had character. There was a verve and tenacity about goalkeepers in Qatar, with a number of underdogs standing up to the occasion and oftentimes showing the traditional ‘elite pool’ of world goalkeepers up.
Dr John Harrison of Goalkeeper-xG covered the tournament in its entirety, measuring every goalkeeping action of note - and even those that may have flown under the radar. From the data collected, Goalkeeper-xG calculated the most difficult saves to make based on expected save probability, finding the following top four World Cup saves as per the following categories:
- Best penalty save
- Best 1v1 save
- Best save from a header
- Best save from an ‘ordinary’ shot
Best penalty save at the World Cup
Emi Martinez is first on our list, with his opening shootout save from Virgil Van Dijk's penalty setting Argentina up for victory against the Netherlands in a game that threatened to boil over. The regular 90 minutes hadn't been comfortable viewing, nor playing for either team, but Martinez's head was seemingly the coolest of anybody's at any point in that hotly contested quarter final tie.
Goalkeeper-xG found the expected save probability on Van Dijk's penalty to be only 13.6%, meaning that an average elite level goalkeeper would concede that strike around 86% of the time.
Best 1v1 save at the World Cup
Keylor Navas, in what is likely his last major international tournament, pulled off the best 1v1 save of the World Cup in Costa Rica's group stage game against Germany. Despite Costa Rica's 7-0 battering by Spain, Navas' nation battled admirably and very nearly went through at the same Spain side's expense. Nonetheless, they - and Navas especially - were a contributing factor to Germany's exit.
The PSG goalkeeper moved excellently across the goal and made himself big to block an effort by Germany's Nikolas Fuellkrug. Despite Goalkeeper-xG clocking this in at an expected save probability of just 17.4%, making it the best save of the entire tournament from open play, and the rather obvious nature of this particular save being the undisputed best pulled off in the match, it failed to make the BBC's YouTube highlight reel. So, here it is from the stands instead.
Best save from a header at the World Cup
Japan's Shuichi Gonda was another surprise package of the World Cup. Japan didn't progress beyond the Round of 16, but to reach that point they had several instances of heroism from Gonda to thank. It's true that the form of Japan's number one was polarising; he made one of the best overall saves at the tournament, but also conceded one of the weakest goals of the tournament against Costa Rica.
Unluckily for Germany, however, it was Gonda's day against them. He joined Navas in becoming one of the two (or three, if you count Neuer's disappointing tournament) goalkeepers that played a hand in Germany's surprise early exit. This save from Serge Gnabry was one of many that more than made up for the penalty the Japanese goalkeeper gave away in the first half, with an expected save probability of 23.6%.
Best save from an ‘ordinary’ shot at the World Cup
Despite their defeat, it was sweet revenge in a way for Ghana when they faced Uruguay in the group stage of the World Cup. 12 years on from Luis Suarez's infamous handball that saw the Ghanaians exit in South Africa, Uruguay would play their final match of the 2022 edition of the tournament with a rather meaningless victory over Ghana.
Despite Uruguay's 2-0 victory, South Korea's victory over Portugal meant that Suarez and co. were sent home. Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi currently plies his trade domestically with Swiss side FC St. Gallen, and will be heading back to club football with some admirable World Cup moments under his belt, including this save from Maxi Gomez. Goalkeeper-xG found this shot's expected save probability to be just 27.3%.