Goalkeepers can often be overlooked when talking about the best football players, but a great goalkeeper can inspire the rest of the side to play with confidence and help them perform better than they look on paper. this was surely the case with Lev Yashin, quite arguably the best goalkeeper at any World Cup. The Russian, born in 1929, possessed a great physical presence, he was 189 cm tall, was agile, had great reactions and the positional sense to ensure he was where he needed to be to snuff out any danger.
Known later in his career as the Black Spider – he wore an all black kit and seemed to posses eight legs, or the Black Panther – for his quickness and ability to pounce on the ball – Yashin played for Dyamo Moscow throughout his playing days. He was given his international cap for the Soviet team in 1954 and went on to play 78 times for Russia appearing in three World Cups: 1958 in Sweden, 1962 in Chile and in 1966 in England. Particularly in 1962, it is doubtful that the Soviet team would have progressed as far as they did in the tournaments: two quarter finals and a semi final in England without Yashin.
It was his first World Cup campaign that really made the world sit up and take note of Yashin. Although his team lost 2-0 to Brazil in the group stage, it would have been a massacre had it not been for Yashin’s heroics in goal. His performances relied on his stunning reaction speeds and the calm, aggressive dominance of his area. He often elected to come and punch the ball or act as a sweeper, rather than attempt potentially dangerous catches or to leave the ball to his defenders. He was also famous for his quick distribution of the ball, often making a save at a players feet and immediately throwing the ball out to a team-mate and starting a counter attack.
Along with his three World Cup appearances, Yashin won the first European Championship with his side in 1960 and an Olympic gold in 1956, and was honoured as European Footballer of the Year in 1963, the only goalkeeper to win the prize. But perhaps the true recognition of his place as a World cup great is the Yashin Award, a FIFA honour first awarded in 1994.
Lev Yashin, the Black Spider, the Black Panther, a great goalkeeper.
overlooked – ignored, not looked at
on paper – the strength of a side based on the names on the team sheet: a team can look strong on paper but perform weakly, or they can look ordinary on paper, but play very well
to snuff out – to stop, to put out, to not allow
agile – quick, fast, supple, quick-footed
to pounce on – to dive on, to grab quickly, to jump quickly like a cat catching a mouse
to sit up and take note – to recognise something/someone as special, to realise something/someone is special
a massacre – literally mass murder, in football a very heavy defeat: for example 4-0, 5-0 etc.
elected to – chose to, decided to
distribution – delivering, handing out, in football – throwing/passing the ball effectively