The shoot-out pits the bravery of the goalkeeper against the pace of the attacker.
The shoot-out pits the bravery of the goalkeeper against the pace of the attacker.
(Photo: FIH / Frank Uijlenbroek)

Often the goal keepers are the unsung heroes in hockey matches. Anonymous behind the head gear, they marshall their defences and put their bodies on the line to keep the ball from the back of the net, but all too often it is the goal-scorers who make the headlines.

But in the Hero Hockey World League Final, goal keepers are finding themselves feted as heroes and their fast reactions and bravery when facing the attack are often the difference between a three point win or a zero point disappointment. Belgium's Vincent Vanash emphasised the importance of the man between the sticks having a good game after his side lost 1-0 to England in the quarter finals: "It was a goalkeeper's game. We both played well, but while George Pinner did a great job, I conceded one. That was the difference between us winning and losing."

That quarter final match was notable for the quality of both goal keepers. In what was a tense match, the fact the ball only found the net once was due more to good goal keeping than any lack of chances to score.

As he collected his Hero Man of the Match award, England's 'keeper George Pinner said: "It is always nice to play your part in the game, but it is always totally a team effort." The 26-year-old added that concentration is a key part of any goalkeeper's game as they can endure long periods when they don't see the ball and then they have to make crucial saves in quick succession. "What is in your head makes a difference to your performance. I work hard on my mental preparation as well as the physical side." 

Match preparation is very different when it comes to goal keeping, as Jaap Stockmann of the Netherlands explains: "Where all the field players have to raise their heart rates and get really warm for the start of the match, I need to take it easy. It is not good for me to get hot and over-excited because there is a chance that I might not see the ball for 60 minutes, then I will get very cold."

Stockmann's match preparation involves relaxing in the minutes before a game starts. It is tougher for the reserve goal keeper, as he has to spend the match prepared to take to the pitch at a moment's notice. Stockmann's colleague in the Netherland's team is Pirmin Blaak. "It is sometimes very difficult if you come onto the pitch late in the match. Imagine, you have been watching for 60 minutes and you have to go straight into action. I just make sure that I keep stretching and stay very involved in watching the game." 

When it comes to pressure, there is probably no situation as stressful for the players as a shoot out competition. One player has eight seconds to get past the goal keeper to score a goal. Devon Manchester takes a philosophical approach. Along with Joaquin Berthold in the Argentine goal, the New Zealand goal keeper faced a shoot out competition in the quarter finals. Manchester said: "The pressure is on the player, I just stay on my feet as long as I can. They have to go past me within eight seconds."

Like Stockmann, Manchester works hard on staying calm. His pre-match preparation includes listening to music and, more unusually, juggling. He also avoids contact with all the other players. "I just like to be in my own head, I don't want to talk to people before the match."

So while the field players are taking the plaudits as they slot away the goals, think about the men at the back. While a striker might miss 10 shots during a match without censure, one error by the man in the mask can lose a match – now that is pressure.

Follow the action on the FIH event site.