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Euros legends: Russia's Lev Yashin, the Ballon d'Or winning goalkeeper

Lev Yashi, Russia Euro legends
(Image credit: Getty Images)

So good, they named, not one, but two awards after him. 

Many believed Lev Yashin was the best goalkeeper there had ever been during his 1950s and 1960s heyday, but it’s an indication of how revered the Russian gloveman still is that when FIFA were looking for a name for its title for the best goalkeeper at the World Cup in 1994, they called it the Lev Yashin Award. 

To add to that, the Yashin Trophy was founded by France Football in 2019 to give to the world’s best goalkeeper.

The Russian shot-stopper’s influence on his position is undeniable. Not only did his reflexes, long arms and penchant for (very dark) blue kits earn him the nickname ‘the Black Spider’, his lack of inhibitions in taking control of his defence transformed the position for his successors. 

Yashin pioneered rushing off his line to claim crosses or deal with wayward through balls. He was also one of the first keepers to favour the punch to clear high balls.

“What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who’s not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented!” he once recalled. “And if he is calm, that means the end.”

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Yashin was a key component of the Soviet Union side that won the inaugural European Championship back in 1960, shutting out Czechoslovakia in the semis before making a host of stops in a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia in the Parc des Princes final. 

By then Yashin’s reputation as the world’s greatest was sealed and his 1963 Ballon d’Or win remains the only one by a goalkeeper. 

More than 150 spot-kick saves during his career is another FIFA record, Yashin once joking “the joy of seeing [pioneering cosmonaut] Yuri Gagarin flying in space is only superseded by the joy of a good penalty save”.

Throw in 1956 Olympic gold and a place in the Ballon d’Or dream team in 2020, and Yashin’s CV is as impressive as they come.

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