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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Bravo to hero as Manchester City goalkeeper hails 'special night' after shoot-out heroics

Relegated to Ederson's understudy, the Chilean proved against second-tier Wolves he is a colossus between the posts when it comes to saving spot kicks

Claudio Bravo of Manchester City saves a penalty from Wolves’ Alfred N’Diaye as City advanced to the quarter-finals of the League Cup 4-1 on penalties. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Claudio Bravo of Manchester City saves a penalty from Wolves’ Alfred N’Diaye as City advanced to the quarter-finals of the League Cup 4-1 on penalties. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

The World Cup, the Confederations Cup, the Copa America; Claudio Bravo has excelled in many a competition. He can now add the League Cup to a list that where the Premier League and Uefa Champions League are conspicuous by their absence. Fourteen months after joining Manchester City, the goalkeeper belatedly illustrated why Pep Guardiola invested so much faith in him.

An elongated evening concluded with Bravo saving spot kicks from Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Alfred N’Diaye and Connor Coady, flinging himself to his right and then left to highlight his anticipation and agility and send City into the quarter-finals. A penalty shoot-out would not have been required but for two saves from Bravo when Wolves’ speedy striker Bright Enobakhare advanced on goal.

“A special night,” he said; perhaps not the phrase expected about a 0-0 draw with a Championship side, but that was understandable. It was a redemptive occasion for the much-mocked 34 year old: City saw the Bravo who was Barcelona’s first choice and is the most capped Chilean in history, not the goalkeeper with the lowest save percentage in the Premier League last season.

Yet when games go to penalties, his statistics improve. “I have always felt confident,” Bravo said. “In my career, I have always been successful in these kind of situations. When there are penalties, I feel like a winner.”

His record bears that out: Chile progressed to the summer’s Confederations Cup final when their captain saved three of Portugal’s spot kicks.

“As far as I can remember in penalty shoot-outs we have lost once,” he added. “It was against Brazil in the World Cup, I saved two penalties and we missed three, otherwise we would’ve advanced. But my approach in these situations is to be strong, to feel calm, to make the penalty taker feel nervous.”

He is one of the smaller goalkeepers. His prowess from 12 yards shows size doesn’t always matter. The secrets of his success, he said, are “a mix of things. First, you have to train it. Secondly, you must analyse the opponent players who usually shoot penalties. Finally, there is a key factor for me, which is feeling strong in a difficult situation, try to make the shooter get nervous.”

Manchester City's Claudio Bravo saves a penalty during the shoot-out win against Wolves. Andrew Yates / Reuters
Manchester City's Claudio Bravo saves a penalty during the shoot-out win against Wolves. Andrew Yates / Reuters

The importance Bravo places on calmness is instructive. “I take everything with a lot of calm,” he said, referring to his predicament after losing his place to a summer signing.

“Ederson is performing well. I must wait. I must keep working hard. There’s no other way. I'm not the kind of player who throws in the towel. Quite the opposite. I think that is the mission of a goalkeeper: give calm and transmit security to the team.”

The accusation last year was that nervousness became contagious because of Bravo’s travails. He harked back to his debut campaign in England.

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“We had a lot of games last season that were like this, with us attacking the whole game and them having one chance and it ending up with them scoring,” he said. Indeed, it was a regular complaint of Guardiola’s that opponents tended to score with their first shot on target.

Not this time. “Claudio has experience and the criticism he received last year, he’s shown that he deserves to play in this team,” said Yaya Toure. “He won the game for us.”

Toure helped by converting his penalty in the shoot-out, extending his impeccable record from 12 yards for City. It prompted the question of who prevails when two penalty specialists take on each other in training.

“Sometimes the manager will use us and we’ll have some sort of competition between us,” said the midfielder. “He’s very good, Claudio, but he doesn’t touch mine.”