Tim Vickery’s Notes From South America: The Pressure Of Being A South American Goalkeeper

Veteran Ecuadorian defensive midfielder Segundo Castillo is winding down his career at home with Guayaquil City after almost 90 games for his country and spells in Serbia and England. Around a decade ago he had a season with Everton and the next one with Wolves. He did not play many games, but he stayed long enough to form an impression, which he recently shared with the Ecuadorian press.

“Football in England is passionate in its intensity,” he said, “but in a cultural aspect, after the game, it’s different. Losing doesn’t mean that you’re mediocre. The fans wait outside and ask for autographs, and nothing bad happens. Here in Ecuador it’s different; lose and you can’t go out because maybe people want to get you.”

This, admirable, trait of the English game most certainly applies to the reaction to the death at the weekend of Peter Bonetti. He has been remembered not only as a fine person, but also as ‘the cat,’ the athletic, dynamic long term and successful goalkeeper of Chelsea.

If he were South American, he would surely have found it harder to get over that World Cup quarter final in 1970, when Bonetti stood in for an unwell Gordon Banks and, on the biggest stage of his life, had a bad game in England’s 3-2 defeat.

The Brazilian reaction would surely have been more cruel. Barbosa, for example, was never allowed to live down Brazil’s defeat on home ground in the final game of the 1950 World Cup.

For the vital goal he was beaten at his near post by a shot from Uruguayan right winger Alcides Ghiggia. For the previous goal Ghiggia had pulled back for a finish from centre forward Juan Schiaffino.  Barbosa was expecting the same move, but Ghiggia surprised him.  It is probably a case of more merit of the scorer than mistake by the goalkeeper.

But poor Barbosa was never forgiven. He even ceremoniously burned the goalposts of the Maracana stadium. He was considered a jinx, and was not allowed to meet Brazil’s then- keeper before a vital World Cup qualifier in 1993 – 43 years later!

He died in 2000, with all the headlines focusing on a single afternoon half a century earlier.

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There is no more pressurised job in sport than being Brazil’s goalkeeper in a World Cup. Often there is not much to do – but a single error can have devastating consequences on the mood of a nation of over 200 million.

The giant Manga found it hard to live down a mistake on a nervy afternoon against Portugal in 1966. Valdir Peres was never allowed to forget an error in the opening game of the 1982 campaign.

And then there is the case of Julio Cesar. He once commented that on his death the newspaper reports will focus on the passing of the Brazil keeper who conceded seven goals in a World Cup semi final. But it is quite possible that the previous World Cup hurts him more than the astonishing collapse against Germany in that 2014 semi final.

After all, he could hardly be held responsible for the crushing defeat. This was a case of the team falling to pieces, rather than a goalkeeping mistake sabotaging the work of the outfield players.

But the situation was a bit different in 2010. He had been a hero during the qualification campaign, and had conceded two goals in four games in South Africa until the quarter final against Holland. Playing their best match of the competition, Brazil were a goal up and in command until the game changed on one blunder by Brazil’s goalkeeper– an ill judged rush off his line which allowed the Dutch to equalize. Julio Cesar was inconsolable after his side’s 2-1 defeat.

Just like Barbosa, and Peter Bonetti, the World Cup was not kind to him.

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