Lev Yashin: The best goalkeeper of all time

Published: 20th April 2010
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In the days when football was played in black and white and half of the World was cut off by an iron curtain, Lev Yashin emerged as the best goalkeeper of all time.

A different title to bestow considering that Yashin played in an age where football was certainly less competitive than it is today, selection for the Russian National team was largely based on political connections more than talent and he probably played no more than twenty games out of his long career in "the west". Yet there can be no doubt that Yashin was a rare and prodigious talent, who even if he had appeared on the scene even ten years later would have been even more of a legend than he is today.

Born and brought up in the austere Moscow of the nineteen thirties, Yashin signed for the famous Dinamo Moscow sports club in 1949 where he played in his famous all-black soccer uniform till he hung up his boots in 1971, During that time Yashin won the USSR league championship of the USSR five times as well as the Soviet Cup three times. Strangely enough, Yashin also played in goal for Dinamo Moscow's ice hockey team and even won the USSR ice-hockey championship as a goalkeeper.

Despite his tremendous goalkeeping skills, Yashin was only called up to the national team for the first time in 1954, and from then went on to play 78 times for his country, which was a remarkable achievement in those times, when considerably fewer internationals take place. With Yashin in between the sticks, the USSR team made it to three World Cup finals (1958, 1962 and 1966), although they were then, as today, terrible un-achievers in the final stages of the World's most prestigious soccer tournament. However despite the USSR turning in their usual "grey performances", with their best being fourth place in 1966, Yashin caught the eye of most of the leading European clubs with solid performances. He made four clean sheets out of all the 13 games that he played in the three World Cup finals. Rumours had it that the mighty Real Madrid were interested in bringing Yashin to the Bernabeu, however the powers that be in Russian sport were not prepared to consider that the "black spider" would practice his trade on the other side of the iron curtain.

Although the USSR team always did relatively poorly in the World Cup, with Yashin in goal they did win the 1956 Olympics soccer gold as well as the inaugural 1960 European championships. The Russian victory was not such a big achievement, as just 17 teams entered the tournament with West Germany and Italy refusing to take part, and Spain withdrawing rather than travel to Moscow to play in the second leg of the knockout stages. The finals, held in Paris, were a four team affair and Russia won a typically "iron curtain" final 2-1 after extra time against Yugoslavia

Lev Yashin is particularly remembered in the Western world for his outstanding performance in the 1963 FA Centenary match. Yashin was picked out to play in goal for the 'Rest of the World XI' against the England team at Wembley Stadium. The crowd looked on in wonder as Yashin made a number of the breathtaking unbelievable saves. Largely on the back of this single performance Lev Yashin became the only goalkeeper ever to win the European Footballer of the Year Award in 1963.

For his outstanding service to the people and for his country Yashin was awarded the Order of Lenin (1967), the highest award of the USSR. FIFA polls placed Yashin in the "Century XI" team, and also named him 'World - Keeper of the Century' ahead of England legend Gordon Banks among others.

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