GK Giants of the Champions League
Thursday evening’s Europa League final saw one of the most fascinating penalty shootouts in recent times unfold in what was an otherwise uneventful game between Manchester United and Villarreal. In a staggering 11-10 scoreline, neither goalkeeper covered themselves in glory up until the final round of spot kicks. David De Gea’s failure to keep out his opposite number Geronimo Rulli’s penalty coupled with his attempt being saved by Rulli, meant that the two number ones would be the hero and villain of the showpiece in Gdansk.
Saturday sees the final installment of this year’s Champions League, which will be contested by Manchester City and Chelsea in an all-English final. Like Thursday’s Europa League match, a European final is an opportunity for goalkeepers to write themselves into the competitions and their respective club’s history books.
Plenty of Goalkeeper’s Union are part of Champions League folklore and this week we look at those whose exploits in the final are etched into the memory of millions.
Jerzy Dudek - Liverpool v AC Milan, 2005
Seldom would a goalkeeper concede three goals in a final (all in the first half) yet be hailed as the hero. That is exactly what happened to Jerzy Dudek one night in Istanbul.
Liverpool had found themselves 3-0 down at half-time of their 2005 final with AC Milan, with not only their chances of lifting the trophy destroyed, but also their qualification hopes for the next season’s competition having only finished 5th in the Premier League.
A Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool fought back to level the game at 3-3, however it would be the penalty shootout where Dudek’s prowess and goal line antics would be immortalised.
Andrea Pirlo was first to be foiled by the Polish stopper and his wobbly legs on the goal line, resembling a predecessor in Bruce Grobbelaar, before saving from one of the world’s best at that time, Andriy Shevchenko, which won Rafa Benitez’s side an unlikely fifth Champions League triumph.
Oliver Kahn - Bayern Munich v Valencia 2001
Oliver Kahn’s 2001 Champions League triumph with Bayern not only solidified his title as Europe’s best goalkeeper at the time, but also showed his rarely seen gentile side which won him plaudits from UEFA.
The German champions faced Valencia, who were in their second consecutive Champions League final, having lost 3-0 to Real Madrid the year before.
With the game at 1-1 after 120 minutes, the dreaded penalty shootout would decide the destination of ‘old big ears’. Despite Santiago Canizares saving two of Bayern’s spot kicks, Oliver Kahn would ultimately win the shootout for the Bavarians with three saves, the all-important one denying future Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino to seal the trophy.
Not only did the German goalkeeper claim the official man of the match award, but also UEFA’s Fair Play Award for consoling a devastated Canizares after the game.
Edwin Van Der Sar - Ajax v AC Milan 1995
AC Milan maybe the second most successful side in European Cup history, but their second final loss in this list comes a decade before Istanbul, when a young Ajax side primarily made up of academy graduates and led by Louis Van Gaal triumphed over the Italians.
Edwin Van Der Sar would make the winning save for Manchester United in the 2008 final against Chelsea, but his younger days the achievement of winning the famous trophy with a homegrown Ajax side in 1995 was arguably the greater achievement.
Overwhelming favourites and reigning champions, Fabio Capello’s men tested the Dutchman early on and he was forced to make a flying save to tip a first-half Marco Simone volley past the left-hand post.
The 1994 winners could not infiltrate a steely Ajax defence and the twenty-four-year-old took everything the star-studded AC Milan side could throw at him.
Van Der Sar cemented his status as an Ajax legend that evening in Vienna and is back at the club as chief executive.