(Photo: frank uijlenbroek)

One standout feature of this year’s Rabobank Hockey World Cup has been the quality of goalkeeping. Whether it was the heroics of Jaap Stockmann to withstand the German onslaught in the final minutes of their tense pool B encounter or the athleticism of Aisling D'hooghe as she saved multiple shots from Kelly Jonker and company when Belgium faced the Netherlands. We catch up with some of the men and women who provide the last line of defence. 

When Sally Rutherford left the pitch after her team's 2-0 loss to the world number one team the Netherlands, she was hailed as a hero because of her brave and acrobatic 'keeping. Certainly Rutherford pulled off some miraculous saves as she blocked a Naomi van As shot at point blank range, followed by a diving save from a Maartje Paumen drag flick. "It was non-stop for some of that game," said Rutherford after she had recovered. "The kids on this team were awesome today, they really put themselves on the line. I didn't have time to think, you try to get yourself in the right position but sometimes it is all just down to instinct."

At the other end of the pitch, Joyce Sombroek was having a very different game. During the first 35 minutes she didn't touch the ball and only had to watch two shots fly wide of her post. In the second half she made one easy save, but was almost tricked by a looping shot from Black Sticks Anita Punt, that went over her head, but also over the cross bar.

As goalkeepers you can experience a very different game from your teammates and that calls for very different psychological preparation. "I have to continuously coach my defenders to make sure  that I stay tuned into the game," says Soembroek. "By talking through the game with my defenders I keep my mind focused. When the ball is at the other end I can lessen the intensity of my concentration a little, but I continuously move around the circle and the 23."

In terms of preparations the goalkeepers take a very different approach. For some, such as Argentina's Juan Vivaldi, it is all about getting 'pumped up' and ready for action. Other 'keepers take a more cerebral approach. Andrew Charter, the goalkeeper for the Kookaburras explains the goalkeeper mindset further. "While the boys are getting pumped in the changing room and on the pitch before a game, I have to go to the other extreme and make sure I am calm in my mind. I might play some music and sit in a  corner just focusing on my breathing and staying calm."

The importance of a good goalkeeping performance is fully appreciated by the field players. Talking after the game between Argentina and New Zealand, which Argentina won 3-1, the hat-trick hero Gonzalo Peillat said: "For us to have the confidence to push forwards and score the goals, we need to have confidence that we will not concede goals. When your 'keeper is having a good day it makes it easier for the rest of the team to perform." This was a sentiment echoed by Robbert Kemperman of the Netherlands. "It was tight in that game (against Germany), but Jaap Stockman was excellent and when you have a top class 'keeper like that, you can play an attacking game."

'Phew, I don't know how he pulled off some of those saves," was Christopher Zeller's assessment of Nicloas Jacobi's performance between the sticks. At one point the 'keeper's game awareness had to be at its very best as a chaotic few minutes in which one player's stick was broken, a member of the opposition was sent off, and play was still going on, meant that in one instance the German 'keeper was talking to his defence, the next he was jamming his helmet back on his head and diving to save a shot from Valentin Verga.

The last word goes to Bobby Crutchley, coach to the England men's team. "We have guys on our team who will make the headlines because they score goals, but if we are going to progress in this tournament, then it will be because George Pinner has had a big tournament. It is the 'keeper and the defenders who provide the foundation for the team to perform."