Goalkeepers are victims
Gianluigi Buffon (AFP)
Cape Town - Eccentric Colombian Rene Higuita, French philosopher Albert Camus and the recently canonised Pope John Paul II all shared one mutual feeling on the sporting field, the dread associated with being a goalkeeper and making a crucial mistake.
Rarely acknowledged by way of individual awards but who can dramatically change the course of a game single-handedly, goalkeepers are an instrumental part of any successful World Cup finals campaign.
Higuita unlike Camus and Pope John Paul II experienced a World Cup finals as Camus never played after representing his university in Algeria and Karol Wojtyla as John Paul was then found a higher calling after playing in that position for his school.
The tournament provides an unrivalled platform for keepers to enhance their reputation but, conversely, the fear of committing a costly blunder is heightened on the global stage given the high stakes.
Portrayed as the team's outcast given the long periods of games spent in isolation, prone to criticism and are seen as easy scapegoats.
A teammate's misplaced pass or miscued shot can often pass without consequence but the keeper is acutely aware that one simple error could prove fatal, undoing all the good work that precedes it.
Germany's Oliver Kahn excelled during the 2002 tournament, becoming the only goalkeeper to date to claim the Golden Ball as the tournament's most outstanding player, but the lasting image from the final was that of Kahn slumped against the goalpost after full-time, ruing an error that handed Brazil the opening goal in a 2-0 victory.
Fortunately for Kahn he was afforded a hero's reception upon returning home but the same could not be said for former Brazil custodian Moacir Barbosa, whose error in the 1950 final against Uruguay was the catalyst to what became known as the darkest day in Brazilian football history.
Barbosa was widely regarded as one of the leading goalkeepers of his generation as Brazil hosted the 1950 event but with the hosts needing just a draw to claim the title and the scores locked 1-1 at the Maracana, also the venue for this summer's showpiece, the ill-fated custodian allowed Alcides Ghiggia's strike to sneak in at his near post.
Brazil were stunned and Barbosa, a black man in what was still a racially-divided country, was cast as a pariah and vilified by his contemporaries for costing his nation the World Cup.
He was seemingly never properly forgiven as just prior to his death in 2000, Barbosa, then 79, famously said: "Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been for 50 years."
Barbosa's case is by far the most extreme but by no means the most grievous gaffe committed by a World Cup keeper.
Higuita, one of the original sweeper keepers and unafraid to dribble the ball out from the back, was left red-faced in the last 16 of the 1990 World Cup when he was dispossessed outside his area by Cameroon striker Roger Milla, who steered the ball into an unguarded net to help the Africans into the quarter-finals.
England amongst several other nations have also suffered down the years from the not so secure hands of various keepers, notably Peter Bonetti and David Seaman.
The then reigning world champions were leading West Germany by two goals in the 1970 quarter-finals before Bonetti, deputising for a sick Gordon Banks, conceded a soft goal to Franz Beckenbauer with England eventually losing 3-2 after extra-time.
The Three Lions were also undone by a goalkeeping howler at the 2002 tournament as Seaman was caught out by a Ronaldinho free-kick that sailed over the Arsenal man's outstretched arms, sending England home in agonising fashion.
More teams undoubtedly will come unstuck in Brazil through further lapses but no one will come under quite as much pressure as Brazil's incumbent No.1 Julio Cesar, who is hoping to play his part in exorcising the demons of the Maracana that still haunt the country to this day, 64 years on.