From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 26, 2010

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FOOTBALL / KICKING AROUND

A gathering of goalkeepers

There is no doubt that Spain owed a substantial debt to its keeper and captain, the 29-year-old Real Madrid man, Iker Casillas, for its World Cup win. But otherwise the World Cup was a nightmare for goalkeepers. Over to Brian Glanville.

After the World Cup, disappointing as it so sadly was (and will alas surely continue to be in its overpopulated form), what of the game's goalkeepers? There is no doubt that Spain owed a substantial debt to their keeper and captain, the 29-year-old Real Madrid man, Iker Casillas, who seems to have been around for decades; he was once a prodigy. True, he didn't begin the tournament well, being plainly at fault when Switzerland scored their surprising, even shocking, winner against the Spaniards. There was no doubt that Casillas came out with surprising impetuosity to dive at the feet of the onrushing Swiss striker, Eren Derdiyok, but the ball ran loose, and Switzerland scored.

Casillas would more than make up for this in the eventual final. Holland may have been under Spanish pressure for much of the game, yet they created two of the best chances of the match, each falling to the irrepressible Arjen Robben, the deadly left-footer playing on the right. Each time it was a one to one situation when Robben seemed bound to score. Each time, however, Iker Casillas frustrated him, with a desperate last ditch save, ensuring that justice would ultimately be done.

England? Gone are the days when they had a highly capable keeper in Peter Shilton, who finished eventually with 125 caps, which even David Beckham, with the endless series of cheap, brief-appearance caps bestowed on him by a besotted Fabio Capello, may well now not break! But things are all too different now. In South Africa, Capello foolishly and so expensively put his faith in Robert Green of West Ham, a player whose previous scattered international appearances had given scant confidence. And sure enough, as we know all too well, Green gave away a pitifully crass goal to the United States, when a straightforward, unmenacing, shot from outside the box by Clint Dempsey of Fulham slipped through his hands wretchedly to give the most ludicrous of equalisers.

Whom to put in Green's place? Capello, it might be said, had boxed himself into a corner since 23-year-old Joe Hart, after a splendid season at Birmingham City, on loan from Manchester City, had arguably been the best English keeper of them all. But Capello had foolishly and even grudgingly kept him out of action. A mere single appearance as a substitute in Trinidad a couple of seasons earlier, had hardly given him the requisite experience. And now, when England are crying out for a good new keeper, he has gone back to Manchester City, who refuse to lend him again; where he is in contention with the highly experienced and accomplished Ireland keeper, Shay Given.

So Capello in South Africa turned to the 39-year-old “Calamity” David James, as talented as he has always been erratic. He didn't do too badly though he might have saved at least one of the four goals the Germans put past him. But when it came to this new season, James, now 40, and released by the financially struggling Portsmouth, turned down offers to stay in the Premier League to join Bristol City in the so called Championship, not too far from home. He might still have been called up, for want of better, but Capello evidently decided that his international career was over.

And alas joining Bristol City as he did, he made an unhappy start, his team beginning its League season with a 3-0 loss at home to the promoted Londoners, Millwall.

Capello that weekend, before the largely irrelevant and premature friendly against Hungary at Wembley, called up three keepers, one of them being Hart. But one of the three Paul Robinson now at Blackburn, threw his toys out of the pram in a sulk, at palpably being no more than third choice.

Though goodness knows he might have been grateful to have been picked at all, after that grotesque blunder against Croatia in Zagreb when, as you'll surely remember, he horribly mis-kicked a ball, which seemed to hit a divot and rolled again singly into his net.

Ben Foster is the other chosen keeper. There was a time when I had huge hopes of him. Signed by Manchester United, lent to Watford, he excelled in their goal and was properly capped for England. I also watched him, at the end of the season before last, when he hasn't played a single game for United, come in at the last moment at Derby and perform superbly. But his was alas another case of being kept out of action by another keeper, in his case, that excellent veteran, Edwin Van der Sar, who looked as good as ever when he played in the recent Community Shield match for United at Wembley.

Foster lost form, failed to convince when he did come back for England at Wembley, and no longer seems the safe and sound choice he once was. In the World Cup, Italy suffered an early blow when Gigi Buffon, for so many years their commanding and acrobatic goalkeeper, was injured just before the opening game against New Zealand. He had to pull out of the tournament and not surprisingly, his internationally inexperienced successor, the 27-year-old Cagliari keeper Federico Marchetti, had none of the same authority. Not so long ago, Peter Schmeichel was a powerfully resilient goalkeeper for Manchester United and his native Denmark though even he for all his physical attributes, didn't at first find it easy to deal with the high crosses.

Now his talented son, Kasper, has made a spectacular beginning to the new season with Leeds United. Though his team lost its opening fixture at home to Derby County, after promotion to the Championship, he himself excelled, and one splendid double save brought him a standing ovation.

Modestly he declared afterwards that he didn't wish to be compared with his famous father. But he too has Danish nationality and though he has been playing in England for some years, the English team cannot call on him.

You wonder how Arsenal will resolve their goalkeeping problems. The Spaniard Manuel Almunia can look pretty safe as he did playing in the pre-season Emirates tournament against Celtic, but he has his difficult days.

His Polish deputy Lukasz Fabianski did well against Milan, but had some alarming experiences last season.

Arsenal tried but failed to buy the Australia and Fulham keeper, Mark Schwarzer, 37. What now, you may well ask?



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