Monday, November 29, 1999

Ball, girlfriends give keepers the jeepers creepers

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High-profile blunders, problems with the swerving ball, injuries, a rare red card and even claims of girlfriend distraction have combined to make the World Cup's first week something of a nightmare for goalkeepers.Any mistake by the last line of defence is always accentuated but there is no denying that this tournament has seen more than its fair share.England's Robert Green set the tone on the second day when he allowed a tame shot by Clint Dempsey to slip through his arms and into the net to gift the United States a 1-1 draw.Green will have to wait until shortly before Friday's game against Algeria do discover if he has been dropped but if he does play he can expect a sympathetic handshake from opposite number Fawzi Chaouchi, who similarly misjudged Robert Koren's shot to give Slovenia a late 1-0 win in the other Group C game.Paraguay's hopes of a shock win over Italy disappeared when Justo Villar's flap at a corner allowed Daniele Di Rossi to equalise in a 1-1 draw, while experienced Mark Schwarzer similarly failed to reach a cross that was headed in by Miroslav Klose for Germany's second in their 4-0 thrashing of Australia.Greece goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas's error gave Nigeria the lead in their game only for Vincent Enyeama, who was man of the match for the Africans in their opening defeat by Argentina, to return the favour by allowing himself to spill a shot for Alexandros Tziolis to net Greece's winner."I think one problem of the keepers is a problem with the ball," said England boss Fabio Capello. "Sometimes the bounce is higher than normal."Mexico coach Javier Aguirre agreed that the new Jabulani ball is to blame. "It's not an excuse but certainly the keepers are suffering a lot," he said.Portugal keeper Eduardo, perhaps lucky that his Ivory Coast opponents barely tested him in his team's goalless opener, said: "The ball is pretty difficult but I've always said the important thing is to prepare for it. We are training more and being more demanding of ourselves so it doesn't create problems."Iker Casillas can hardly blame the swerve of the ball for Spain's shock 1-0 defeat by Switzerland as it reached him via a 70-metre punt from Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio.Casillas was slow to react and was lucky to escape a red card for upending Eren Derdiyok in a wild feet-first lunge.He could claim that his concentration wavered having not been remotely tested previously by the Swiss, but some Spanish fans had a different explanation.Spanish players' wives and girlfriends have been kept away from their camp but Casillas's glamorous partner is TV presenter Sara Carbonero -- voted by one magazine as the world's sexiest reporter -- who was hovering close to the pitch throughout.British tabloid newspapers have suggested Green's recent split from his girlfriend might have distracted him in the run-up to the tournament, thus playing a role in his blunder.South Africa's Itumeleng Khune was dismissed for bringing down Uruguay's Luis Suarez in the host nation's 3-0 defeat, making him only the second World Cup goalkeeper to be sent off after Italy's Gianluca Pagliuca in 1994.Pagliuca was able to return later in the tournament as Italy went all the way to the final -- an unlikely scenario for Khune -- but the World Cup was over before it began for French third choice Cedric Carrasso, who tore a muscle in training.Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, one of the best in the business, went off at halftime against Paraguay because of back problem and could also be out for the duration.(Editing by Michael Holden)

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