Thrills and excitement are always guaranteed when goalkeepers turn goalscorers. Fans, players and coaches alike look on in anticipation when a No1's presence in the opposing box is usually spontaneous and born of desperation.

Though their primary role is to prevent goals, the game is awash with examples of keepers who were adept at the other end of the park. The undisputed home of the prolific keeper is South America, which has given the game the three finest exponents of this rare skill.

One such master was Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay. The 43-year-old guided the Albirroja to the last sixteen at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, where he was named the competition's best goalkeeper. The footage of him consoling and geeing up his team-mates after their exit from the tournament is the stuff of lore.

"I’ve seen and done all kinds of things in football, but the one thing that makes me most proud is changing the image of goalkeepers for ever. Up to then we were the morons, hanging around in our own goalmouths and taking a barrage of flak whenever we made a mistake. But we changed that. We showed we can do a great deal more, and can in fact win games," he told

Chilavert finally hung up his gloves in 2003 with more than 60 goals to his name, including the extraordinary feat of netting a hat-trick in a 1999 league encounter.

Rene Higuita, Colombia keeper from 1987 to 1999, lays claim to arguably the most spectacular save of all time, the legendary 'scorpion kick’ which came to worldwide attention in 1995 during an away friendly against England. Instead of routinely catching a gentle floating shot at his goal, he dived forwards and punted the ball off the line with his heels, cushioning his landing on the Wembley turf with both hands.

We’re more and more important nowadays. We’re not just there to make saves, but we do something up front as well.

Rene Higuita

"Some people say you have to be a little crazy to be a good goalkeeper. They say having your keeper take free-kicks and such is too much of a risk, but times have changed," El Loco reasoned. "We’re more and more important nowadays. We’re not just there to make saves, but we do something up front as well."

This pair may be the best-known keepers ever to have emerged from South America, but the honour of scoring the most goals overall belongs to a third shot-stopper, Rogerio Ceni. The 35-year-old Brazilian has more than 80 goals to his name so far in competitive matches and thus rates as the world’s most clinical goalkeeper. He has won the Copa Libertadores three times with Sao Paulo, and helped his side to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2005 crown, when he was named the player of the tournament.

Aerial powerhouse Lehmann
Ceni takes not only free-kicks but also penalties for his club, and Germany boasts a similar specialist. Hans-Jorg Butt has converted 26 spot-kicks in 324 Bundesliga appearances and is the highest-scoring keeper in German league history. The 34-year-old played for Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and Benfica before taking up his current role as reserve goalie at Bayern Munich.

Back in April 2004, Butt painfully experienced the fine line between glory at one end and misery at the other. In the 76th minute of Leverkusen’s meeting with Schalke, he scored to make it 3-1 for his team, basking in the celebrations as he ambled the 100 yards or so back to his goal. He had not quite regained his normal position for the restart when the ball sailed over his head and into the net. Schalke’s Mike Hanke had received the ball directly from the kick-off, advanced a couple of paces, and let fly to great effect.

Keepers rarely hit the target from open play, but former German international Jens Lehmann is an exception. Back in December 1997, appearing for Schalke in the Ruhr Valley derby against Borussia Dortmund, Lehmann earned his side a 2-2 draw with a last-minute header. And just recently, Avai's Eduardo Martini scored with a fully 100-yard kick from hand in the Brazilian Serie B.

In any case, the introduction of the rule prohibiting keepers from handling back passes demanded a whole new skill set from the men who stand between the sticks. Edwin van der Sar, himself a converted striker and the Netherlands’ most-capped player, rates as one of the most skilful keepers in the game, with the ability to play as conventional sweeper if the occasion demanded it. By and large, the days when defenders and crowds alike would shudder with dread as their goalkeeper emerged from his box and tried to play with his feet have long been consigned to history.