Top 5 goalkeepers of 2011

With the year coming to a close, takes a look at the goalkeepers that came to their teams' rescue time and time again over the last 12 months.

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Ask any goalkeeper and he will tell you standing between the sticks is a thankless task. The outfielders always get the credit when goals are scored, but the moment something goes awry at the back, fingers automatically point to the guy tending the goal.

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As such, we try our best to recognise the best shot-stoppers in the world. Though they may get the least credit of all footballers, they are no less deserving of the praise and the accolades.

In no particular order, here are's five best keepers of 2011.

Manuel Neuer (Schalke & Bayern Munich, Germany)

The last twelve months have seen 25-year-old Manuel Neuer establish himself as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.

Fresh off his exploits at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Neuer was one of the few shining lights as Schalke endured a disappointing Bundesliga campaign. The German international provided a calming influence at the back, and singlehandedly dragged his club to the semi-finals of the Champions League, their best-ever showing in the competition.

His performances earned him a €22million move to Bayern Munich, where he has since proved a worthy acquisition, helping the Bavarian side finish the calendar year at the top of the Bundesliga.

Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain)

Long regarded as one of the best shot-stoppers in the world, Casillas once again showed why he remains so important to Real, providing a formidable last line of defence that allows his side to play their trademark attacking brand of football.

While Real spend most of their matches dominating the opposition, Casillas' experience means he is always able to pull off stunning saves on the few occasions he is called into action. And his inspirational leadership saw him lead Real to their first trophy since 2008, when he guided them to a 1-0 Copa del Rey final win over arch-rivals Barcelona.

Joe Hart (Man City, England)

It is uncontestable that Manchester City are the rising force in English football.

While many have tried to play down City's achievements by pointing to the millions that have been spent to assemble the squad, Joe Hart, who cost them just £1.5million back in 2006, remains one of their most important players.

The likes of Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli are the names on most fans' lips, but opposition players and managers will tell you that Hart remains the most important piece in Roberto Mancini's puzzle.

Only earlier this month, Hart proved the difference between four points and one, as his heroics helped City to a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, followed by a 1-0 win over Arsenal.

Hugo Lloris (Lyon, France)

Following seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles from 2001 to 2008, Lyon have now gone three seasons without a league victory, finishing third last season behind Lille and Marseille. However, that was by no means Lloris' fault as helped his side to the third-best defensive record in the league.

The 24-year-old also showed exemplary leadership qualities when he blasted his team-mates after they let a two-goal lead against Nice slip in injury time, in a game in which Lloris had already saved a penalty. The following week, Lyon played with renewed vigour and cruised to a 3-0 win over Lens.

Lloris was also a standout for France as they qualified for Euro 2012 by finishing top of qualifying Group D, ensuring his presence at next summer's championship.

Vyacheslav Malafeev (Zenit St Petersburg, Russia)

Malafeev looms as the selection which will raise the most eyebrows, but a closer look at his contributions this season tells the tale of a goalkeeper currently at the top of his game.

The year started in tragedy for the 32-year-old, as his wife was tragically killed in a car crash, but Malafeev showed great resilience in bouncing back from his loss to star for Zenit, who are currently leading the Russian Premier League, two points ahead of CSKA Moscow. His heroics also helped Zenit qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League, finishing second in Group G, ahead of Porto.

But it was on the international front where Malafeev arguably made the most impact. Long having had to settle for a place on the bench behind CSKA's talented shot-stopper Igor Akinfeev, Malafeev was called into action with Euro 2012 qualification on the line after an injury to his counterpart.

And the veteran kept four consecutive clean sheets as Russia sealed their place in next summer's European Championship, finishing top of qualifying Group B ahead of Republic of Ireland.

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