Friday 11 May 2018, 05:24

Defensive heroes hoping for Russian repeat

  • We look at the best defensive records on the road to Russia

  • Morocco conceded just once in eight games

  • Spain and England boasted best records in Europe

We are living in a blessed age of attacking football with the past decade largely dominated by the superhuman scoring records of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The European club game has seen some of the world’s biggest sides play a frenetic counter-pressing and attacking game that sees goals aplenty. Defending as an art form has seemingly been left by the wayside.

However, during qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, several teams produced near-miraculous defensive records on their way to Russia. is here to highlight these efforts by the largely unheralded members of the team with a closer look at the best defensive qualifying figures in each continent.



8 games, 1 goal conceded

A goal conceded every 8 matches

The best defensive record in qualifying across the 32 teams that reached Russia came from Herve Renard’s Atlas Lions. They conceded just once in their eight matches, in a 1-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea in Africa’s second round back in November 2015. This meant they went the entire third round group stage - nine hours of football – without conceding.

Top goalkeeper

Munir: 720 minutes played, 1 goal conceded while on pitch

Top defender

Medhi Benatia: 621 mins, 1 goal conceded

Morocco's top shot stopper Munir


IR Iran

18 games, 5 goals conceded

A goal conceded every 3.6 matches

Spread over more games, IR Iran’s record is almost as impressive as Morocco’s. Conceding three times in the second round’s Group D, Carlos Queiroz’s side went a remarkable 18 hours and 41 minutes of qualifying without conceding – a run spanning almost two years. Their run came to an end in their final third round Group A game, when they conceded twice to Syria.

Top goalkeeper

Ali Beiranvand: 1062 minutes played, 2 goals conceded while on pitch

Top defender

Jalal Hosseini: 794 mins played, 1 goal conceded while on pitch

IR Iran were one of the first sides to join hosts Russia at the global finals, back in June 2017



10 games, 3 goals conceded

A goal conceded every 3.3 matches

The Three Lions kicked off their qualifying campaign with a superlative defensive record. They went their first five games without conceding and by June 2017 were one of only two sides left on the road to Russia with a completely clean sheet. They would go on to let in two magnificent Leigh Griffiths free-kicks against Scotland at Hampden Park, before conceding in just one more effort: Stanislav Lobotka’s quickfire Wembley goal in September 2017.

Top goalkeeper

Joe Hart: 810 minutes played, 3 goals conceded while on pitch

Top defender

John Stones: 630 mins, 0 goals conceded

John Stones of England looks on

England's rock at the back: John Stones


10 games, 3 goals conceded

A goal conceded every 3.3 matches

La Roja share the best European defensive record with England but garnered more points (28 versus 26) on their road to Russia, scoring twice as many goals (36 versus 18) in the process. Former goalkeeper Julen Lopetegui handed David de Gea his World Cup qualifying bow, with the Manchester United man keeping six clean sheets in his nine games.

Top goalkeeper

David de Gea: 810 minutes played, 3 goals conceded

Top defender

Sergio Ramos: 710 mins, 3 goals conceded



16 games, 8 goals conceded

A goal conceded every 2 matches

Joining the party in CONCACAF’s fourth round, El Tri conceded just once in six games in that round’s Group A. In the next stage – the ‘Hex’ - their defence was breached seven times, although four of those goals were conceded in the three matches that followed their qualification for Russia 2018.

Top goalkeeper

Guillermo Ochoa: 720 minutes played, 5 goals conceded

Top defender

Hector Moreno: 1125 mins, 5 goals conceded

Guillermo 'Memo' Ochoa famously put in a stunning performance against hosts Brazil back at the 2014 World Cup



18 games, 11 goals conceded

A goal conceded every 1.63 matches

A Seleção’s road to Russia can be split into two phases: pre- and post-Tite, and the same can be said of their defensive record. Before he arrived at the helm, Brazil had conceded eight goals in six matches. The side let in just three goals in 12 games after his arrival. If that record were extrapolated over the entire campaign, their record of a goal conceded every four qualifying matches under him would be one of the best of all 32 nations to reach Russia 2018.

Top goalkeeper

Alisson: 1440 minutes played, 9 goals conceded while on the pitch

Top defender

Miranda: 1482 mins, 10 goals conceded