Rabah Saadane faces a real selection headache as he whittles down his Algeria squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With just a few weeks to go before he names his 23-man pool for the world finals, Saadane has still to decide whether to hand the No1 jersey to Lounes Gaouaoui or Faouzi Chaouchi.
With doubts surrounding both custodians, the 64-year-old tactician has a tough choice between the cool-headed, experienced yet ageing Gaouaoui and the more youthful but irascible Chaouchi. Saadane’s dilemma is one his predecessors have also faced. Whereas the Desert Foxes have often been spoilt for choice in other positions, they have struggled to unearth genuinely reliable keepers on a regular basis.
That does not mean to say Algeria have not had some fine custodians over the years. Mahdi Cerbah, Nasreddine Drid and Laarbi Elhadi have all acquitted themselves well in the position. Nevertheless it can be argued that in terms of goalkeeping talent, Algeria has always lagged behind other African nations such as Cameroon, Egypt and Morocco.
The position looks set to be problematic once again at South Africa 2010, although Chaouchi can at least point to his heroic performance in the play-off match against Egypt, when he stepped in for the suspended Gaouaoui and kept the Pharoah strikers at bay with a string of quality stops.
However, the excitable shot-stopper undid all his good work at the CAF African Cup of Nations in Angola earlier this year, appearing to aim a head-butt at referee Coffi Codjia in the Desert Foxes’ semi-final defeat to the Egyptians and receiving a lengthy ban as a result. Despite his indiscretion, Chaouchi was in the list of 25 players on Saadane's pre-World Cup roster.
Yet, the unsavoury incident has only intensified doubts about the ES Setif keeper’s lack of experience and his temperament, which could cost his team dear in the pressurised environment of a FIFA World Cup finals and have serious long-term consequences for his international career.
Inside track for steady Gaouaoui
There are no such concerns about Gaouaoui, which may well tilt the balance in his favour. A first-choice since his maiden call-up in 2002, the ASO Chlef goalkeeper has kept his place in the side despite numerous managerial changes and the appearance of several pretenders to his No1 slpot, thanks in the main to his consistency.
Gaouaoui also has the ability to stay calm in even the most tense situations as he showed after conceding a goal at the start of their decisive South Africa 2010 qualifying game against Egypt in Cairo. Unaffected by the din of the crowd and the pressure of the situation, Gaouaoui calmly marshalled his defence throughout the rest of the game, coaxing and encouraging his team-mates rather than reproaching them.
On the downside, the 32-year-old lacks the younger Chaouchi’s agility and exuberance, and his recent injury problems have undermined his form, as his display in the 3-0 friendly defeat to Serbia in March showed.
Saadane will need to give the matter some serious thought as he weighs up the benefits of Gaouaoui’s experience against the flawless technique but questionable temperament of Chaouchi.
He could yet get round the problem by calling on another keeper entirely. Mohamed Zamamouch would be the one making the most compelling case for inclusion, though it still seems unlikely that Saadane will look beyond his top two custodians for Algeria’s Group C opener against Slovenia on June 13.
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