Fifa must change law requiring World Cup squads to have three goalkeepers

In the history of football's most prestigious competition, only four nations have ever used three goalkeepers in one tournament
By James West

Each of the 32 teams have now revealed their final squads for the World Cup which kicks off next week, and the same question which rears its head every four years comes back to the forefront: why have they brought three goalkeepers? Surely that’s a waste of a shirt number ...

The reason: they have no choice. Over to the antiquated article 29.3 in Fifa’s World Cup regulations, which reads: “Each association shall be required to provide Fifa with a final list of 23 players, three of whom shall be goalkeepers.”

So just how abnormal is it for a team to use all three of their goalkeepers at the same World Cup finals? Incredibly, out of the 393 sides that have played in the finals, only four have used all three of their custodians in a single tournament.

The first was France in 1978, then both Belgium and Czechoslovakia in 1982, and most recently Greece in 1994. In the case of France and Greece, both sides were already out of the tournament by the time they fielded their third goalkeeper - the French famously playing their last match against Hungary after borrowing green and white shirts from a local team (picture below).
Dominique Dropsy (France)
Jacky Munaron (Belgium)
Karel Stromsik (Czechoslovakia)
Christos Karkamanis (Greece)

The three-goalkeeper rule is, in fact, older than Fifa’s president Sepp Blatter. It was introduced for the 1934 finals, where it was decreed that three members of the squad, if consisting of the maximum of 23 players, must be goalkeepers.

This decision was made after USA travelled to the inaugural World Cup in 1930 with just one shot-stopper, Jimmy Douglas, who kept the first clean sheet in the history of the finals. The US filled the rest of their places with outfield players.

Before the last World Cup in South Africa, North Korea discovered to their cost that this rule is strictly enforced as they attempted a bit of squad skulduggery. Coach Kim Jong-Hun registered their ultimate utility man, Kim Myong-Won, usually a striker, as their third goalkeeper as they looked to use their 23rd place on someone who might actually feature at the tournament. Instead, Fifa quickly responded by announcing that he would only be allowed to play in goal, where he was registered, and nowhere else.

Football’s governing body wrote in their statement: “The three players listed as goalkeepers can only play as goalkeepers during the World Cup and cannot play outfield.

“Kim Myong-Won will not be allowed to play as an outfield player if he has been put on the list as a goalkeeper.”

Unsurprisingly, he never got on the pitch at the tournament.

So, while the statistics show that using all three goalkeepers in one tournament is an incredibly rare occurrence, including the four teams mentioned above, has a team ever used every member of their 23-man squad at the same finals? The answer is no.

Eight squads, including third-placed Germany in both 2006 and 2010, have used a record 22 players in a World Cup finals campaign. The only German player that did not play in those tournaments was their third goalkeeper. Would they have gone further if a fresh attacker could have been called upon in the respective semi-final losses to Italy and Spain?

Four years ago in South Africa the 32 teams used a total of 36 goalkeepers. Out of the 2,477 substitutions that have been made in the 772 matches at the World Cup finals, only 11 times has it been for one goalkeeper to replace another.

Like goal-line technology and picking up back-passes, it must finally be time for Fifa to review article 29.3. Why not give the teams the option of naming an extra outfield player instead of a third goalkeeper in Russia in 2018?