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France, England, Joe Hart and the tyranny of “near post”

England's goalkeeper Hart fails to save a shot by France's Nasri during their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match in Donetsk

England’s goalkeeper Joe Hart fails to save a shot by France’s Samir Nasri (not pictured) during their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 11, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (UKRAINE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)


Goalkeepers and their mandate of not getting beaten to the near post has become one of those coaching and analyst bromides that get picked up repeated by larger audiences.

Only, it gets occasionally misplaced and/or misused.

Because there’s more “near post” to some near post strikes. I present to you the debate over France’s goal Monday, Samir Nasri’s sharpshooter special that did get inside of Joe Hart’s near post. Somewhat, anyway.

Personally, I cannot get on board with the Hart-bashing on this one. It was a great hit, threaded through a quartet of Three Lion legs.

If we’re honest, Hugo Lloris was probably more at fault on England’s goal than Hart was on France’s equalizer – only England goalkeepers (and probably England in general in this part of the world) are more closely scrutinized. So no one is talking about Lloris standing pat when perhaps he should have aggressively moved toward the free kick cross.

When we talk about goalkeepers and “near post,” what it really means is this: On plays developing from certain angles, ‘keepers should never get caught cheating out, anticipating the cross and therefore exposing the near post, making things easier on the shooter. It’s about making the attacking team work harder for the goal. Force the pass. Give defenders a chance to make a play and a clearance. Give two players (the man with the ball and the target near goal) a chance to make a mistake, rather than leaving just one man, the shooter, with easy work.

(Good example: Late in Monday’s contest, Franck Ribery’s sneaky little effort to expose Hart’s front post nearly struck game-winner gold, and that would have been a much different discussion.)

As for France’s first-half equalizer: there was barely a “near post” in that near post. Nasri’s shot emanated from just a few yards off center.

A goalkeeper’s near post mandate does not mean “protect the nearer side at all costs, even if it means abandoning the most precise angle of goalkeeping position.”

Because the bottom line: shots that slip inside the “far post” count just the same.