The Reserve Goalkeepers Who Stole the Spotlight

Several reserved goalkeepers have managed to step up well and steal the spotlight from time to time.

Being the second choice in a team is never everyone's dream, especially for goalkeepers. They play fewer minutes on the pitch and spend more time in the dugout while their rival is in action. However, these second fiddles are expected to prove their worth once the opportunity arises, which can happen quickly if the number one is injured or sent off in the middle of a game or season. 

The Reserve Goalkeepers Who Stole the Spotlight
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Some have to wait for their actual minutes because of such circumstances, while others have been more fortunate due to the double-first goalkeeper policy. At least, they have more regular minutes in certain competitions, such as domestic league cups or continental tournaments. 

In the 2023/24 campaign, several teams have been forced to rely on their second man in the pecking order. Real Madrid have been counting on Andriy Lunin as well as signing for Kepa Arrizabalaga due to Thibault Cortois’s long-term injury. Liverpool, Barcelona and Newcastle experienced a similar situation in the middle of the season for the same reason with Caoimhin Kelleher, Inaki Pena and Martin Dubravka as the next shot-stopper to turn to respectively as Alisson Brecker, Marc Ter-Stegen and Nick Pope. Aston Villa is the most recent team to do the same last weekend while hosting Chelsea in the Premier League. Their main shot-stopper, Emiliano Martinez, had to be replaced by Robin Olsen during the interval. 

Among those second fiddles, not all succeeded. Lunin, Kelleher and Dubravka have stepped up well whereas Pena and Robin Olsen have failed to impress their fans and teammates. The latter was even unable to keep the clean sheets last weekend to hold The Villans’ double advantage before the break. They conceded twice from Noni Madueke’s strike and Conor Gallagher’s long-range shot. 

Aston Villa even slumped to a 4-2 defeat against Olympiakos in the UEFA Conference League semifinal at their home turf on Friday when Olsen was between the sticks. Such loss could leave their only chance for silverware this season in danger. Unai Emery’s would have to bounce back and snatch a win with a two-goal advantage to keep their chance alive and could force to end the game on penalties, which Emiliano Martinez excels at. The Argentine is expected to return to the pitch after his suspension in the reverse fixture, in which the Aston Villa tickets are likely to be in high demand. 

Here are a few reserve goalkeepers who have not only been able to perform well but also stole the show, both at the club level and in major international tournaments. Interestingly, some of them are Argentineans. 

Club Level: 

David Soria (2015/16)

The current Getafe shot-stopper was only 23 years old in 2016. He was only the second choice in Sevilla back then. They were competing in the Champions League that season but failed to progress to the knockout stage. Yet, they were still able to play in the Europa League after finishing third in the group stage.

That was where David Soria had his chance to show his true quality. The former Real Madrid youth player did not pass up the opportunity. He helped his team advance to the final by defeating Basel, Athletic Bilbao, and Shakhtar Donetsk, the 2009 Europa League champions, before facing Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. Soria impressed the fans in the quarterfinals, saving one penalty in the shootout and making two crucial saves in the final, allowing Unai Emery's team to retain the trophy for the third time in a row. 

Overall, he only made 13 appearances in that season, four in Copa Del Rey and nine in UEFA’s second-tier competition. Unfortunately, Soria did not get a nod in the first team till 2017/18. He eventually moved to Getafe and remains the first choice in the capital side till today.

Emiliano Martinez (2019/20) 

The Argentine shot-stopper rose to prominence in 2020, while still with Arsenal. He was only second in the pecking order behind Bernd Leno. However, the German goalie's long-term injury provided an opportunity to show the world that Argentina has a world-class figure between the sticks waiting to shine. Martinez quickly proved his worth, helping The Gunners win the FA Cup in 2020 and the Community Shield the following season. Overall, he appeared in 23 games, nine of which were in the Premier League. 

Martinez, who had been loaned out many times during his stint in Emirates, requested assurance that he would be the first choice, but Mikel Arteta was unable to guarantee his place. Thus, he opted to leave London and signed for Aston Villa. The rest is history. 

Geronimo Rulli (2020/21) 

Martinez’s understudy in Albiceleste, Geronimo Rulli, appeared to experience the same. He was only the second fiddle in Villareal back in the 2020/21 campaign but he contributed heavily in their European success. The Yellow Submarine snatched their first-ever major title, Europa League 2021. Rulli was then assigned to play in UEFA’s second-tier competition and was involved in their triumphant continental campaign. The former Real Sociedad and Montpellier man saved once on penalties while his team beat Manchester United in the shootout. 

His form impressed Unai Emery and promoted him as the first choice in the following season when he appeared in 46 games. It was twice more than his appearance in the 2020/21 season. Rulli also brought his team to advance to UCL semi-final, the second time since 2006 during Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure. The 31-year-old goalie is continuing his career in the Netherlands as he joined Ajax Amsterdam in 2023. 

Janis Blaswich (2022/23) 

His name is probably not well-known but he was involved in saving RB Leipzig’s campaign in the 2022/23 season after their first man between-the-stick, Peter Gulacsi, was sidelined for long. The former Heracles Almelo man eventually impressed since he helped Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and defend their DFB Pokal title. He made clinical saves in the quarterfinal while thumping Borussia Dortmund and in the final versus Eintracht Frankfurt. His outstanding performance earned him a call-up to the Germany national team in November 2023, even though he had yet to make his international debut. 

International Level:

Jan Jongbloed (World Cup 1974)

On the international level, Jan Jongbloed was one of the most obvious examples. He was not the first choice in de Oranje until the 1974 FIFA World Cup final round in Germany. The former Roda JC and DWS goalkeeper was eventually named in the squad and got a nod in the line-up instead of the first choice, Piet Schrijvers. Jongbloed appeared seven times in the tournament and made four clean sheets before taking on the host in the final. In the following edition, he once again brought the Netherlands to the summit before losing to the host Argentina. It was his last game for the national team.

Sergio Goycochea (World Cup 1990)

Goycochea was the next reserved goalie who stole the spotlight at the World Cup. He came off the bench in the second game of the group stage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup against the USSR to replace the injured Nery Pumpido. Surprisingly, the former River Plate, Racing Club, and Colombian Millonarios man impressed the fans with his clinical and heroic saves in the remaining games until Argentina progressed to the final. He managed to keep clean sheets in two crucial games against Brazil and Yugoslavia in the knockout stages, plus he was a shootout hero in both the quarterfinal and semifinal. Carlos Bilardo’s men had to go through penalties to send Dragan Stojkovic and Co. and the host, Italy, to the exit.

Sadly, he was unable to deny Andreas Brehme’s penalty in the final, which was the only goal of the game. Albiceleste slumped to a narrow 1-0 defeat and failed to retain their title. Yet Goycochea’s incredible form earned him the best goalkeeper award in Italy in 1990. He went on to be the mainstay under Alfio Basile till 1994 and contributed heavily while Argentina lifted the Copa America trophy in 1991 and 1993, respectively, their last ones before Lionel Messi and Co. clinched it in 2021.

Unai Simon (EURO 2020)

The current Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper was not the first choice in La Furia Roja until November 2020, when he made his debut against the Netherlands in a friendly match and featured in the last two games of the UEFA Nations League, including when they hammered Germany 6-0. Simon was still the second one in the pecking order, as there was still David De Gea.

Nevertheless, his fortune came in the EURO 2020 final round when Spain's boss at the time, Luis Enrique, opted to name him the number one goalie. Simon, who was still 22 at the time, took up the challenge as he made important saves during the tournament, including in a shootout versus Switzerland in the round of 8. Spain did advance to the semifinals before falling to Italy, also on penalties.

Simon then carried on playing for his country at the 2020 Summer Olympics alongside Pedri. He was able to help the U23 side reach the final. His hope to replicate young Pep Guardiola’s gold medal glory in Barcelona 1992 was dashed as Spain slumped to a 1-0 loss versus Brazil.

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