PROFILE: The Costa Rican shot-stopper has been a revelation at Levante in 2013-14 and now threatens to thwart England, Italy and Uruguay in the World Cup next monthWhat is he doing here? The choice of Keylor Navas in Goal's Liga Team of the Season may have raised eyebrows on Monday, particularly given the brilliance of Atletico Madrid's Thibaut Courtois, but the Costa Rican was there on merit - and anybody who disagrees has obviously not seen enough of Levante these last nine months.
Great goalkeepers from Central America don't exactly roll off the tongue, it's true, but Navas is an excellent exponent of his trade - a man who has bided his time to make a name for himself in La Liga and who will play a prominent part in his nation's World Cup campaign this summer. England, Italy, Uruguay will all expect to beat Costa Rica in the group stages in Brazil, but they'll have to beat Navas first - and that, on this season's evidence, is easier said than done.
Navas, now 27, started his career with all-conquering Costa Rican club Saprissa, winning a host of national titles and also the CONCACAF Champions League, which saw him appear in the Fifa Club World Cup as well. Later, in 2009, he was named Best Goalkeeper in the Gold Cup. earning a move to Albacete a year later, where he played in Spain's second and third tiers.
Levante's scouts were watching, though, and signed Navas in 2011, initially on loan and then on a permanent transfer. The Costa Rican was forced to wait in the wings, however, and spent his first two seasons as back-up to Gustavo Munua, only stepping up to the No. 1 position after the Uruguayan left to join Fiorentina last summer and subsequently returned to his homeland with Nacional.
The wait was worthwhile. In 2013-14, Navas has been in spectacular form for Levante and has kept 15 clean sheets for the Valencia-based side so far in La Liga. Agile, athletic and boasting remarkable reflexes, he has caught the eye of a number of top teams this term, among them Atletico, who will likely need a new goalkeeper if Courtois returns to Chelsea this summer.
On Sunday, Navas frustrated the Rojiblancos with a number of superb saves at the Ciutat de Valencia to throw the title race wide open again as Diego Simeone's side lost 2-0. "In key moments, Keylor Navas has helped us," Levante boss Joaquin Caparros said afterwards. "To beat such a quality opponent, you have to be intense, show maximum efficiency and have a good goalkeeper." They had one.
On Monday, Spanish tennis player then Pablo Andujar smashed balls at the Costa Rican with his racquet from the egde of the box on a visit to the club he has supported since childhood. Few found the net and the Davis Cup player could only watch in admiration at how his 160 kilometre-per-hour drives were repelled by the shot-stopper.
"I play in a very competitive league and every Sunday I come up against some of the best players in the world, so I stopped being nervous about facing big-name players a long time ago," Navas told Fifa in an interview published on Monday. "I feel quite relaxed. For me it’s a great challenge to play against the best."
Atletico have already had a taste of that. England, Italy and Uruguay are up next - and Keylor Navas will be ready for them.