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
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
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
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
Unsurprisingly, he never got on the pitch at the
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?
Each of the 32 teams have