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Blog - World Cup Central

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Brazil
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Strikers vs. goalkeepers

(From left) Paul Mariner, Shaka Hislop and Taylor Twellman discuss the ongoing battle between strikers and goalkeepers.
(From left) Paul Mariner, Shaka Hislop and Taylor Twellman discuss the ongoing battle between strikers and goalkeepers.

It's one of the great confrontations in any game at any level. On one side is the striker, with an opportunity to make a decisive impact on the scoreboard. Opposing him is the goalkeeper, the last line of defence against a major setback for his team.

To look deeper at this mano-a-mano battle, ESPN FC spoke to three men who know a thing or two about it.

On one side is a pair of former strikers: Paul Mariner and Taylor Twellman. Mariner played for Arsenal and Ipswich and was a scorer for England at the 1982 World Cup. Twellman, meanwhile, won 30 caps for the United States and scored 101 goals in a distinguished MLS career.

Representing the goalkeepers is Shaka Hislop, who played in the Premier League for over a decade and starred for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2006 World Cup.

The debate began back where it all began for the trio, who discussed what it took for them to succeed at the position in which they became best-known.

Paul Mariner: When you get to the highest level, the first division and internationally, everything just has to be better. The pace of the game is quicker, the pitches are quicker and your first touch has to be more precise.

I remember playing at Wembley for the first time and noticing how fast the field was -- probably the quickest I ever played on. It's still the same game, just with tighter angles, spaces, everything.

Taylor Twellman: In my junior year of high school I remember telling my dad, "I just want to score goals" but I never really learned the position until the Under-20 World Cup in 1999, where I worked with Jurgen Klinsmann and Wolfgang Suhnholtz: they taught me how to play the position. I learned to work on holdup play, on losing my defender and never stopped until I retired. I constantly watched game tape to use my brain to outthink defenders.

Shaka Hislop: If I say so myself, I kind of stood out at college level (Hislop went to Howard University). The game in England was so different, though. More physical, stronger in the air; my natural advantages disappeared rather quickly even in the third tier at Reading! I had to work on being better at everything.

Twellman: I grew up watching Shaka and he's being a little humble but the one thing about watching him was his presence. I played with Avery John, who was his Trinidad and Tobago teammate and he spoke about the quiet confidence he gave to those playing in front of him. That is something you can't teach; Shaka had it.

Hislop: When I first started goalkeeping, we used to have two television channels in black and white in Trinidad. One show we got was "Road to Wembley" so I liked Joe Corrigan and Ray Clemence; they were my biggest influences.

Mariner: I played with both of them for England, as well as Peter Shilton. Those types of players were men I looked up to; they were at the top end of world-class goalkeeping. I used to room with Joe and he used to be the guy who took all the shots in training.

Twellman: In terms of influences for me, it was Alan Shearer. He kept things simple but, anywhere within 25 yards of goal, he said "get out of my way." I loved the way he celebrated goals, I love the way his teammates played for him and he rewarded them.

With 260 goals, Shearer is the leading scorer in Premier League history.
With 260 goals, Shearer is the leading scorer in Premier League history.

Hislop: Alan was great to play with (the two were teammates at Newcastle in the 1990s) and there was nothing he couldn't do in and around the box. He didn't try to do anything he couldn't. He wasn't going to run by anyone on the flanks. He'd hold the ball up, bring others in and try and get in scoring positions himself. Simple.

Mariner: I used to impress that on Taylor when I coached him at New England. I explained that, if the number of times that we got into the final third increased, so would the chances he got. I said that he needed to hold the ball up in the middle third and just bring others in to play. He was an absolute predator in the box and, if he got a couple of chances, he would take one of them.

Twellman: My aim was always to get three good chances a game and to hit the target with all of them because my money was on one of them hitting the back of the net because of the work I had put in in practice. If the goalkeeper made the save, you tipped your cap and moved on. My biggest pet peeve after games was if I missed the target.

Hislop: That's another thing about Shearer; he didn't waste opportunities. I've never seen anyone strike a ball with the inside of his foot harder than him.

Mariner: If you really break down a lot of goals, you are basically passing the ball into the net. You are under such pressure in the box and, generally, the chance comes at the end of a lot of movement. There's a lot of bodies in there too, with the crowd noise another thing to deal with. You have to try and find that passing lane into the back of the net. In that situation, you have to be the best passer on the field in a split-second of time.

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Hislop: As a goalkeeper, you have less impact if it's a quicker play where it is more instinctive and there is less time to react. I always say one-on-one situations are more difficult than they look for strikers.

Twellman: Any time I tried to out-think the goalkeeper, I lost! I always believed in my instincts. Those situations for me were always about feeling him in your peripheral vision but not wanting to concentrate on them. You just wanted to feel natural.

Mariner: It sounds silly but you don't really see the goalkeeper in those situations, whoever he is. You just view him as this obstacle blocking your path to goal. Generally, if you put it in the right spot, it won't be saved although the fact that those guys had such prowess made it a little bit harder.

Hislop: As a goalkeeper, you want to be able to establish your own presence as the striker runs through. If you can look him in the eye and show him one way or the other, you can dictate to him what he is about to do. You try and time your movements between when he drops his head to look at the ball so that, the next time he looks up, you are in a totally different position and it throws him off.

Twellman: I would focus on how quickly I could get a shot off because I always believed that the quicker I did that, the less time a keeper had to react. It gave them less time to read me -- to watch my hips, what I was doing with my shoulders -- and gave me an advantage. So, immediately I got that half a yard, I would shoot.

Hislop: The basics of keeping apply in those situations: hands in the right place, feet still when the strikers shoot even if you are out of position. If the feet are moving, you have a fraction of a chance to save.

Twellman: In national team training, the likes of Tim Howard and Nick Rimando were a bit quicker and more reliant on their natural abilities. Guys like Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, though, as quick as I could get that off and get them in between a step of their preparation, I felt that was my best opportunity.

Mariner: The one who always gave me most trouble was Shilton because his angles were fantastic and his athletic ability was amazing. He could stop a shot and get up quick to react again. The old saying of looking so big in the goal applied to him; he had very broad shoulders but was narrow at the hip and he covered the goal up so well.

Hislop: When you work with strikers every day, you learn all about them. What separates the great from the good are those that can use the same ones but with different results. Same run-up, same way of using his hips; that's where it becomes a test for a goalkeeper. Of course, as much as you know what they do, you have to strike a balance and not over-commit to make their chance easier.

Twellman: Goalkeepers might know a striker's tendencies better than he does and I was always open-minded -- I'd ask Kasey in national team camp: "do you see anything?" For example, I learned that when I would open up my hips, the goalkeeper's instinct was to anticipate a shot to the back post. I learned to whip one near post, here and there.

Mariner: Sometimes you just saw things, though. I remember a great friend of mine, Viv Anderson, who was playing for Nottingham Forest when I was at Arsenal. I could just see that he had nothing on going forward and knew he would have to go back to Shilton. Before he played it, I was out of the blocks and I just took it round Peter and put it in the net. It's funny because I was laughing going round him because he was my mate and Viv was swearing at me for showing him up.

Twellman: I never looked at it as though it was me against the goalie. There were weren't any that got in my head but there were plenty of goalies who had blinders against me. I remember a playoff game against Chicago where a young Matt Pickens, who was playing instead of Zach Thornton, I think he set a record at that time with something like 10 saves in a playoff game. Yet, I got one by him...

Hislop: Okay, enough from you forwards -- you've got the let the goalkeeper get the last word! We've spoken about preparation and practice but I'll give you an example of when things just go right, no matter what. At the World Cup in 2006, we were actually warming up for the first game when I found out I was playing because Kelvin Jack got hurt. The first 15 minutes were dicey -- I hadn't much experience with the new ball for the tournament and I misjudged a corner early -- but I grew into the game and just got a great read on everything and was seeing it like a beach ball. I remember one save where I took out Henrik Larsson on the six-yard line and got the ball and we managed to get a 0-0 draw; goalkeepers do come out on top sometimes!