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The Toe Poke

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The Toe Poke

Gomes set to become a Dutchman?

As a supporter I buried my head into my hands while howls of frustration scattered into the cold evening sky over the De Goffert Stadium. As a football fan I could only admire the latest in a series of miracle saves by Heurelho da Silva Gomes in the PSV goal.

As a lone warrior, the Brazilian with the tentacle-like spaghetti arms had kept his team at bay against a furious NEC, looking for their sixth win in a row.

KNVB chairman Henk Kesler showed up in Nijmegen with the silver salad dish that is awarded to winners the Dutch title to present it to the visitors as a PSV victory and a defeat of Ajax at Heerenveen would make them unreachable at the top.

Until recently, few people believed Ajax would have a hard time in Heerenveen, now it is almost a surprise that they win in the Abe Lenstra Stadium so the media was rife with talk of PSV's title destiny.

However, PSV seemed not so keen on taking the dish in Nijmegen as have a UEFA Cup quarter final against Fiorentina on their hands. Festivities would derail the preparations for these matches. Being seven points ahead with four games to go was surely enough to win the title eventually.

PSV chose to play a cautious attacking tactic and on the night it was almost eleven against one. After ten minutes, Jermaine Lens beat two defenders and seemed to have scored with a perfect shot into the top corner, only for a desperate grab from Gomes to put the ball behind.

NEC kept banging away at his goal, yet the Brazilian always found some limb to keep his sheet clean. Almost into injury time, Lens again seemed destined to end the deadlock when he made his way through the PSV defence.

While the home crowd, of which I was a part, rose from their seats in expectation of the deserved winner, Gomes showcased his incredible antics again, poking the ball with one toe over the bar.

In the dying seconds, he jumped over everyone and NEC's kitchen sink to catch a corner and save the point for his team . He was the only one in championship form. Spurs fans will agree that some his saves go beyond the comprehensible. His arms seem to be made of rubber and are not only used to stop the ball, but also to windmill it quite some distance over the halfway line.

Gomes came to PSV in the slipstream of Alex, the defender loaned from Chelsea in the summer of 2004. The imposing Alex made an immediate impact on the fans in Eindhoven, which contrasted to the reception the keeper got. Who goes scouting in Brazil and comes home with a keeper? It seemed rather ludicrous at the time.

In recent years, PSV had signed several talented youngsters to send the ageing Ronald Waterreus to the bench, but all had caved under pressure of the mind games of the veteran.

Waterreus regained his place each time, ending three promising careers in the proces, but his mediocrity cost the club dearly. With an outstanding goalkeeper they might have reached the second round of the Champions League before 2004. When Waterreus signed on a free for Manchester City, where he never got a game, PSV went to look for a Dutch replacement first, but when these proved to be too expensive, Gomes came on their radar. Only current Chelsea scout Piet de Visser had seen him play, but his advice was trusted.

The keeper convinced the sceptics soon enough with his performances, which propelled the club not only into the second round of the Champions League but even into the semi-finals.

Off the pitch, he won the hearts of the fans when he and Alex played along in a hilarious interview by a Portuguese-speaking Dutch reporter. Gomes proved to be quite the clown and became a crowd favorite. In his trademark jumping warm-up he brings his head level with the bar four times before kick-off and also performs his extrovert goal celebrations.

During the following years PSV hardly ever left the top spot in the league and are racing towards their fourth title in a row, equalling their own record and that of HVV Den Haag. Ajax nor Feyenoord ever got that far. Sure, Gomes can make mistakes, but he only makes them when it does not do any harm. In the big games he concentrates on reliability.

Gomes is only 26 and a family man through and through. A big difference from the days when Romario would cruise the streets of downtown Eindhoven. The city came to a standstill when he ventilated his concerns about the slow administrative machinery at the club when he wanted to extend his contract.

'If they don't hurry up, I will leave', he cannily said in weekly football magazine Voetbal International when it took a couple of months to put pen to paper. Within days PSV produced the needed signatures which will keep the Brazilian in Eindhoven until the summer of 2013.

In a country which has always been awash with quality keepers, Gomes is definitely the number one at the moment. But he is from a country which has a rather erratic reputation for goalkeepers. Apparently Brazilian national coach Dunga has little confidence in Gomes and just does not like to come to Holland to scout him.

Over the years, Gomes has played a couple of friendly internationals but has not participated in any tournament, except for the Confederations Cup in 2005 where he was the third-choice custodian. For Brazil's most recent game in London against Sweden, Dunga picked the unknown Diego Alves of Almeria over the PSV player. With another five years in Holland ahead, Gomes has now decided to inquire about a Dutch passport.

Attornees are looking into his availibily for the Dutch team where he might be the perfect replacement for Edwin van der Sar, who will quit after Euro 2008. 'Brazilian keepers are considered crazy or gay', Gomes once said, but this clown may be smart enough to play at the World Cup in 2010. Hopefully under the Dutch flag.

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