Tactical Talk: Euro 2012 goalkeepers and near-post goals
by Liviu Bird
When France’s Samir Nasri and Jérémy Ménez put goals past England’s Joe Hart and Ukraine’s Adriy Piatov in the sticks, respectively, commentators worldwide clucked disapprovingly and began a favorite major-tournament pastime: blaming the goalkeeper.
Most commentators don’t understand goalkeeping, so to them, anytime a goalkeeper gets beat at the nearer of two posts, the pundits call it out because they just don’t know any better.
Here, we’ll take a look at Nasri and Ménez’s goals, understand why the goalkeeper was not at fault for either of them and then look at a goal from Major League Soccer this past weekend that actually was the goalkeeper’s fault for getting beat at the near post.
Videos of Euro 2012 goals are notoriously hard to come by because of the debate over who owns the rights and whether posting them on the Web violates those rights. If you can find these goals somewhere, feel free to post the links in the comments.
Joe Hart doesn’t see Samir Nasri’s shot through bodies in his way
When Nasri receives the ball on top of the 18-yard box, England has nine players inside its own penalty area defending. Hart, for his part, is in good position to stop the shot.
He’s basically in the middle of the goal, perhaps taking away a little more of the near post, as he should. However, the mass of humanity in front of him is the problem here. As Nasri releases the shot, take a look at Hart’s sightline to the ball. It’s not great.
The goalkeeper has to find the ball through two English bodies and one French body before it gets to him. He doesn’t even move until the ball is about 12 yards away from the goal.
Nasri hits the shot with some pace, and the flight of the ball is misleading, causing Hart to take a step to his left — the opposite direction that the ball is traveling. He tries to recover, but he can’t get a powerful enough first step on his dive, and the ball finds its way under his hand and into the goal.
It may look like Hart got beaten at the near post, but Nasri hammered the ball through three bodies, and Hart didn’t see it until it was about halfway to him. That cut down his reaction time enough that he just couldn’t get to the ball.
Adriy Piatov gets no help from his first defender
On the second French goal in question, Ukraine goalkeeper Piatov is also in a good position to stop Ménez’s shot. However, the first defender gives Ménez too much space. To properly frame the shot for his goalkeeper, he needs to be closer to the attacker’s left side.
Instead, Ménez has plenty of space to cut back toward the middle of the field. At this point, he could shoot anywhere — near post, far post, centrally — and have a good chance of scoring. Piatov adjusts his position well, though, giving himself a chance to make a save still.
Ménez decides to snap his shot back to the near post. Maybe he sees the bodies he would have to shoot through on the other side and thinks any shot to the far post will be blocked. In any case, the defender, now on the opposite side of Ménez from where he started, fails to block the shot. Ménez hits it hard enough back across the goalkeeper that Piatov can’t get down fast enough to keep it out.
In the end, chalk this one up to poor defending. Had the first defender framed the shot better for Piatov, he could have known that the only place he could be beaten would be at his near post, and he would have been able to get a powerful first step on his dive to keep the ball out.
Bryan Meredith has nobody to blame but himself
After a two-week break, MLS action resumed last weekend, and expansion side Montreal Impact opened its renovated Saputo Stadium against Seattle Sounders FC and rookie goalkeeper Bryan Meredith. The score was already 2-0 when Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was sent off, and the resulting free kick started the play that made it 3-0.
Here are the full highlights of this game. The goal we’ll look at here starts at the 4:16 mark.
As Andrew Wenger gets played over the top, Meredith’s positioning is pretty good. This is probably sounding like a broken record by now — are you bored yet? — but starting position is vital to a goalkeeper’s success, so it’s worth examining every time.
As Wenger gets closer to the goal, Meredith has to make the striker beat him at the far post. He adjusts his positioning accordingly, and Meredith is probably hoping that his defender can recover to block out the far post. Seeing that he is at probably the best angle he will get and he is being chased, Wenger decides to pull the trigger instead of taking another touch.
Until now, Meredith has done everything well to give himself the best possible chance of stopping what is essentially a point-blank shot from Wenger. The Montreal rookie doesn’t get a great shot off; it’s right at the Seattle goalkeeper. However, because Meredith is correctly giving up some of the far post in favor of stopping all shots at the near post, the goalkeeper likely thinks Wenger will shoot to the far post. He leans — or cheats, if you prefer — that way.
This is a strange decision for a number of reasons, not least of which being that a goalkeeper should never anticipate a shot but should instead react. Also, the near post is the first priority in this situation, so if Meredith leans in any direction — which he shouldn’t, but it does happen — it should be to his near post.
As a result, a shot that should be an easy save turns into a goal. Meredith can only get a flailing hand on the ball, and Montreal goes up 3-0 en route to a 4-1 win.
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Hopefully, this gives you a little more clarity on the near-post debate. Just because a ball goes in at the near post, it doesn’t mean the goalkeeper was at fault. Other circumstances still play a role in every goal scored, not just where it happens to cross the line.