Meet the Costa Rican keeper who could break English hearts at the World Cup

Pete Hall introduces the goalkeeper who could frustrate England in Belo Horizonte on June 24...

The 60-second story

He kept the sixth-most clean sheets in Europe’s top five leagues last season, all with a team that only just finished in the top half of La Liga, and three of those stoppers above him ended the campaign as league champions. Oh, and he will be between the sticks for England’s final and potentially pivotal group game at the upcoming World Cup. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas could be a real heartbreaker this summer.

FACT FILE

  • Date of birth: December 15, 1986
  • Place of birth: San Isidro, Costa Rica
  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Height: 6ft 0in
  • Former clubs: Saprissa, Albacete
  • Current club: Levante; 70 apps
  • Country: Costa Rica; 51 apps
  • Honours: CONCACAF Champions League 2005; Costa Rican Primera División 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007 Apertura, 2008 Clausura, 2008 Apertura, 2010 Clausura

The 27-year-old stopper has done it the hard way throughout his career, waiting patiently in the wings for his chance to shine, but grasped it with both hands as a modest-looking Levante side secured a top-half La Liga finish, just a point behind city rivals Valencia.

Resilience has been key to Navas’ rise to prominence. After finally securing a regular starting berth for Les Granotes, Navas conceded seven in Levante’s surrender to Barcelona on the opening day of the 2013/14 campaign, but after working so hard to get to this point Navas wasn’t about to give up.

A memorable double-save in the reverse fixture at the Ciutat de València against the Catalan giants and a man-of-the-match display against eventual champions Atletico Madrid announced Navas to the masses, and with the World Cup upon us, Navas can use the biggest stage of all to show the world that the last year was his inauguration as a man at the top of his profession.

Why you need to know him

Having began his career back in his native Costa Rica with the all-conquering Saprissa, where he a accumulated numerous league titles, as well as a CONCACAF Champions League winners medal, Navas decided it was time to ply his trade in Europe – where several compatriots from the same region have tried and failed over the years.

Albacete gave him his chance, competing in Spain’s second and third tiers, toiling away in the hope of attracting interest from Spain’s top flight.

That dream move came after Levante scouts, who had been on his trail for some time, convinced the club’s hierarchy to snap up the eager Central American, but the big move didn’t reap instant reward.

For two seasons Navas waited patiently as understudy to Uruguayan Gustavo Munua, whose departure for Fiorentina last summer paved the way for Navas to seize his moment – and give those more pessimistic amongst us England fans further reason to be play down the Three Lions chances of success in Brazil.

Joel Campbell, who famously piled further misery on beleaguered former Manchester United boss David Moyes earlier in the season and former Fulham trequartista Bryan Ruiz are Costa Rica’s more famous names, but if Los Ticos are going to prove everyone wrong this summer, and not be Group D’s whipping boys, it will be Navas who will have to perform more heroics – something he has been doing all season.

Strengths

With an ageing central defensive duo ahead of him, Navas will have known long before the Barcelona annihilation that he would be in for a busy campaign, but with his shot-stopping ability, he has almost single-handedly secured Los Granotes another respectable season.

The stats are simply incredible, leading to his value growing exponentially. No goalkeeper in Europe’s top five leagues made more saves that Navas last season (160), keeping out 80.4% of the efforts on his goal.

His athleticism is the key factor for such a record. His spring and quick reactions has thwarted numerous high-profile attackers, none more so than the wonderful double save against Barca, somehow leaping backwards to scoop out Lionel Messi’s header on the rebound, and a phenominal leap to his right to keep out a Ivan Rakitic header in a vital win over Sevilla in January.

Being asked to make such a number of saves is nothing new to him, domestically and on the international stage.

In the entire World Cup qualifying campaign, Navas conceded just seven goals, one less than group winners USA. It seems nothing fazes him, unfortunately.

Weaknesses

Goalkeepers the world over have won plaudits for their shot-stopping ability, but once they have stepped up a level with a top club, their other flaws have often come to the fore.

Should Navas secure a big move this summer, his game will have to change to incorporate other aspects, with less shots to face.

His distribution is below par of ‘keeper of his ability, with less than half of his passes finding the desired target, a stat which is well below numerous competitors in La Liga alone.

His decision-making is sometimes rash, coming for balls he should stay put for, but at the age of 27, which is still young for a top goalkeeper, he could easily iron out these imperfections.

What they said

“We have the best keeper in the league right now,” Levante owner Quico Catalan said after hearing of interest in his star man.

“That is a privilege for us. Other clubs know the situation.” It seems Catalan knows he’s in for a busy summer or fending of potential suitors.

Did you know?

Navas appeared with Los Ticos in two editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and was crowned the best goalkeeper in 2009 after helping his country to the semifinals.

What happens next?

A summer move away from the Valencian outfit seems to be certainty. Liverpool are reportedly interested, Atletico may have to replace Thibaut Courtois, who will return to parent club Chelsea with no permanent signing in sight, while fallen giants AC Milan are seemingly keen on Navas aiding their rebuilding process.

Navas himself has admitted he may be tempted by the lure of a big club, and his £8million release cause is unlikely to deter potential suitors, especially if can frustrate Costa Rica’s superior opponents in Brazil.

Brace yourselves...


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He was a hero because no English player has had "International" experience playing abroad

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