Football is a team game, but the goalkeepers are somehow lone warriors. Goalkeepers can win and lose matches for their teams, and they are often in the focus for this sole reason. In numerous World Cup bound teams the decision on the No. 1 goalkeeper has not been taken as yet and has often turned into a controversial issue. Arunava Chaudhuri looks at the current situation in some of the teams.
Jens Lehmann, Germany's new No. 1 keeper
With the World Cup less then 45 days away, numerous national coaches have not yet decided who will be their No. 1 goalkeeper. Germany’s decision was awaited with baited breath and turned out to be something of a surprise. Some national coaches made up their minds a long time ago, others are still wondering which three to take to Germany, they have such a surplus! And then there are national coaches whose No. 1 keepers are still recovering from injuries.
Lehmann Germany’s new No.1
2006 World Cup hosts Germany have been having a controversial competition for the No.1 spot in Team Germany since August 2004 when Jürgen Klinsmann took over as coach. Bayern Munich’s Oliver Kahn, who was the hero of Germany’s 2002 World Cup exploits when the team unexpectedly reached the final and where he was even named “Player of the Tournament”, had suddenly got an opponent in Jens Lehmann who plays for English Premier League club Arsenal London. Klinsmann said he wanted to push his goalkeepers to their limits: Kahn was termed 1a keeper while Lehmann was 1b. An open and fair competition for the post between the German goalposts, is how Klinsmann described it at the time. Earlier this month Klinsmann chose Lehmann as his World Cup No.1, who he said fitted better into his philosophy. Only small nuances were said to have made a difference. Lehmann has had an exceptional run in the Champions League for Arsenal this season, while Kahn had made some unusual mistakes at Bayern.
Many expected deposed Kahn to retire before the tournament, but in a surprise move Kahn decided to be part of Team Germany as their No. 2 goalkeeper. The 36-year-old Kahn told a news conference in Munich, "I've come to the conclusion that it's important for the national team for me to be there, despite my disappointment. This can't be about personal vanity.”
Dida still Brazil’s No.1
Brazil is known for its attacking football, but not for great goalkeepers. AC Milan’s Dida has been Brazil’s No. 1 for quite some time, but this season his form has been very inconsistent. After some great performances he has made almost as many spectacular blunders which have cost Milan crucial points. There are potential replacements such as 2002 World Cup winning keeper Marcos of Palmeiras and Eindhoven’s Gomez, still Dida is coach Carlos Alberto Pereira’s No.1 choice. But Pereira has warned Dida not to be too complacent.
Argentina is still searching
Meanwhile Argentinian coach Jose Pekerman is still undecided who will play for the Gauchos in Germany. Will Boca Junior’s Roberto Abbondanzieri remain No.1 or will German Lux from arch rivals River Plate Buenos Aires take his place?
France a legend might warm the bench
France coach Raymond Domenech has a difficult decision to make. Will the hero of many battles Olympique Marseille keeper Fabian Barthez keep his place or will Olympique Lyon’s in-form Gregory Coupet take his place? Domenech has said he will only decide shortly before the tournament keeping each player’s current form in mind.
Spain’s Real problem
Iker Casillas has been Spain’s No.1 for a number of years, but like his teammates at Real Madrid he has not had too good a season. Other keepers like Valencia’s Santiago Canizares or Liverpool’s Jose Manuel Reina have had good seasons and could replace Casillas, while arch rival Barcelona’s Victor Valdes is seen as a future prospect but not experienced enough for this summer.
Poland: three out of five
So far as the choice of the keeper is concerned, the scenario in Poland is the trickiest and most interesting of all. Five keepers are fighting for the three places in the squad and long-time hero FC Liverpool’s Jerzy Dudek might not even find a place in the team. Dudek is fighting against Celtic Glasgow’s Artur Boruc, West Bromwich Albion‘s Tomasz Kuszczak, Wojciech Kowalewski of Spartak Moscow and youngster Lukasz Fabianski of Legia Warsaw. Dudek’s heroics won Liverpool the Champions League title last summer, but since then he has been warming the bench with questions about his quality being raised even before his Istanbul heroics. Boruc would appear to be the frontrunner for the No.1 position after a good season in Scotland with Celtic.
A number of keepers on the injury list
A number of No.1 keepers are carrying injuries or have just returned from the same.
Juventus Turino’s Gianluigi Buffon had a serious shoulder injury earlier in the season and is now down with a foot injury. Italian Buffon, one of the best keepers in the world at the moment, is expected to make it back to the goal before June. Mark Schwarzer, who had been Australia’s hero in their qualifying campaign, broke his cheekbone in the FA-Cup semifinal against West Ham United for his club side FC Middlesbrough. He will miss the rest of the season in England, but should be fit for the World Cup. Ukraine’s Oleksander Shovkovsky had broken his collarbone in a collision during his club side Dynamo Kiev’s match in January. Shovkovsky is now on the comeback trail and is hoping to be top fit for the World Cup this summer.
Some national coaches have no worries in goal, if no injuries happen ahead of the World Cup. Chelsea London’s Petr Cech is the unchallenged Czech No. 1, like Oswado Sanchez for Mexico or Edwin van der Sar for the Netherlands. Others who are set to come as No.1 to Germany are Tottenham’s Paul Robinson for England, Stade Rennes’ Andreas Isaksson will play for Sweden, Kasey Keller from Borussia Moenchengladbach will be in goal for the USA and FC Basel’s Pascal Zuberbuehler for Switzerland. Similarly, Sporting Lisbon’s Ricardo is earmarked for Portugal.