When Egypt’s goalkeeper and captain Sherif Ekramy runs out against Argentina on Monday he will, as usual, receive the noisiest cheer of the day. However the loudest gasp may be reserved for his opposing skipper – Fernando Cavenaghi. Not because the River Plate star is the most likely candidate to silence the huge Egyptian support with a goal, but because if anything should happen to the albiceleste second keeper Mariano Barbosa, standing in for the banned Gustavo Eberto, the number 9 will pick up the gloves and take his place between the posts.
Teams competing in the FIFA World Youth Championship have the option of including two or three goalkeepers in their 20-man squad. Argentina chose the former. So when Eberto was shown the red card after bringing down Mali’s Bakary Coulibaly, it not only meant Barbosa was given an unexpected run out, but that coach Hugo Tocalli would have to designate an outfield player ahead of the next game to step in should anything, in turn, befall his second and last number one.
Long into the night and for much of the following day, the deep thinking coach pondered the decision before making the call after trying out several candidates in their final training session before the crucial clash for a place in the quarter-finals.
“Cavenaghi goes in goal sometimes at training through his own will,” explained Tocalli. “He is an easygoing character, which would be important in the game atmosphere, so, all in all, I thought he was the best option we had.”
Back to goal
The striker, who has won many admirers from Europe’s top clubs through his prowess in front of goal, proved he was pretty hot with his back to it, pulling off some fine stops and plucking the ball out of the air to the approving nods of the goalkeeping coach.
With borrowed gloves and a newly fitted jersey with Cavenaghi emblazoned on the back, the striker is ready to step in when and where his country needs him.
“I’m relaxed about it,” he says laughing before admitting he has never played the position before. “I’ll face the situation should it arrive but let’s hope it doesn’t happen as, by trade, I’m a number 9.”
One player who can be 100 per cent confident he will be starting the match on Monday is Mariano Barbosa, who had to face a penalty immediately after coming on against Mali in Argentina’s final group game.
“I didn’t expect it at all. I hadn’t been warming up and it was difficult to get any rhythm,” he said reflecting on the moment. “I stopped, breathed deeply and entered. I was going to dive one way for the penalty but at the last moment I changed my mind. Fortunately we were 3-0 up but I was still worried because I knew they would throw everything at us.” P>Hooked
Ironically, Barbosa started his love affair with the beautiful game as a striker playing five-a-side before he took to goalkeeping after being hooked watching Sergio Goycochea at Italia 90.
And after debuting for his club Banfield in the first division, when he conceded a goal in the very first minute against Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata, he has gone on to win the admiration of many, including that of Tocalli.
“Ubaldo Fillol, the goalkeeping coach, is very demanding, he corrects many things,” added the young custodian. “I’ve never seen him keep but I’ve heard Diego Maradona say he was one of the best, which speaks volumes.”
Without a back up, could Barbosa play his own game?“I’m not going to be affected by it,” he said. “My job is to stop the ball from going in the net. If I can avoid fouling someone all the better…but that depends on what’s happening in the game.”
Of the keepers he has seen so far in the tournament, Barbosa chooses the man he will line-up against on Monday, Sherif Ekramy, as his favourite: “He’s very big, they pressurise him a lot but he always meets the challenge.”
In what many predict to be a tight match between the holders and the team that finished third at Argentina 2001, it could be the quality of the two goalkeepers on the day that swings the result. Everybody is hoping that one of those keepers walking off at the end is not called Fernando Cavenaghi.