MIKA MORE THAN READY TO LAND A WORLD CUP PLACE
By Tim Wheal
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
The 22-year-old stopper's staunch resistance was only finally beaten with Ruud van Nistelrooy's last-gasp penalty, after Landreau had pulled off nine saves throughout the match. Amongst many important stops, the Nantes skipper brilliantly denied Ruud van Nistelrooy on three occasions with the Dutchman clean through and also kept out Paul Scholes's diving header with a superb reflex save at full length.
That super-show took Landreau's tally of saves in the 2001-02 Champions League to 29, which is one of the highest totals in the competition.
More impressive though is the proportion of efforts on his goal that Landreau has successfully dealt with, and his 83% saves-to-shots ratio marks him out as one of the tournament's most effective shot-stoppers. In fact only Roma's Francesco Antonioli can boast a better record than Landreau in the Champions League, while France number one Barthez lags slightly behind the Nantes star with an 81% stop success rate.
Barthez made two outstanding saves for Sir Alex Ferguson's side but even his good display was overshadowed by his potential understudy, with United's 'keeper hailing Landreau's "fantastic" performance and calling for the once-capped player to be selected alongside him for Japan/Korea 2002.
"He's young, and it would be good to have him in the France squad for the World Cup. That's my wish. But it's not up to me to take the decisions," Barthez enthused after Landreau's eye-catching display.
Landreau certainly seems to be blessed with the temperament to cope with the biggest stage of all. He was made club captain of his side before he'd even reached his 21st birthday and Nantes went on to win the title in his first campaign as skipper. And he has been unfazed between the sticks against some of Europe's finest strikers - in spite of the fact that Nantes have suffered some indifferent form in Le Championnat and are languishing in 13th place.
The Frenchman has shipped just six goals in nine appearances in the 2001-02 Champions League and came within a whisker of recording his fourth clean sheet of the tournament on Wednesday. As a result he has conceded a goal every 135 minutes on average - again only Antonioli has a better record.
Bordeaux's Ulrich Ramé is currently France's second-choice stopper, with Gregory Coupet of Lyon back-up for the World Champions' latest friendly against Romania.
Coupet didn't fare too well in Europe's premier club competition this season with his side crashing out after the first group phase. The former Saint Etienne stopper conceded nine goals in his six starts, saving a below-average 70% of shots struck at his goal, while Parma's Sebastien Frey - another hopeful for the World Cup - has saved just 69% of all efforts he has faced in Serie A this season, conceding 33 goals.
Judging by his performance not only last night but since the start of the 2001-02 Champions League, Landreau looks well-equipped as a standby goalkeeper for world Cup holders France at this summer's tournament. Time will tell whether he will be an adequate, long-term replacement for Barthez, but the former Monaco 'keeper seems to think so and the signs are that Landreau could be a natural successor to the United and France number one.