Grégory Coupet believes he will present Raymond Domenech with a serious selection dilemma if he maintains his excellent recent standards in France's final two FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland and Cyprus.
The Olympique Lyonnais custodian has been France's first-choice goalkeeper for the past four matches, as Fabien Barthez serves a six-month suspension. He has been in exceptional form for club and country during that period, but is nonetheless in danger of losing his place when France's 1998 World Cup hero returns to action later this month.
Coupet is determined to make Barthez wait, however. "The last few months have been fantastic," the 32-year-old told uefa.com. "Playing regularly for Les Bleus has been a wonderful experience and I don't want it to stop. Frankly, I don't know what will happen when Fabien returns - all I know is that I feel fantastically proud when I wear that shirt and I really don't want to give it up."
World Cup ambition
France can book their place in next summer's finals by winning in Switzerland on Saturday, and Coupet knows he will need another high-class display if he is to keep his own chances of appearing in Germany alive. "There's no point talking about the competition between Fabien and myself, because if I have a poor game against Switzerland or Cyprus there'll be nothing to discuss," Coupet explained.
'Form of my life'
"Keepers don't have any margin for error and everything can change from one match to the next. But I feel confident because I'm in the form of my life." And should that continue, Domenech will be faced with a tough choice. "I think there would need to be a frank discussion between myself, Fabien and the coach," said Coupet. "I have huge respect for Fabien, so whatever decision is made I will accept."
Coupet does not think it would be a good idea for the two to be in direct competition going into the World Cup. "Whichever of us is the first choice will need to know that his position is safe," he said. "It's very difficult for a goalkeeper to play well knowing he'll be dropped if he makes the slightest mistake."
That so many people in France are even debating the issue is testament to Coupet's recent development. Earlier this year many felt the former AS Saint-Etienne player would merely be keeping the jersey warm in Barthez's absence, but his faultless showings for Lyon and France have won him a great deal of support.
Coupet enhanced that growing respect with a mature performance against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin last month, when he commanded his area with great authority to help France seal a crucial 1-0 win. "I feel as though people look at me in a different way these days," Coupet said. "The fans have more regard for me and it's no longer such a big deal to see Coupet in the France team."
His reputation could be further lifted by another clean sheet in Berne on Saturday, but Coupet is expecting a difficult evening against the Group 4 leaders. "It's going to be a very tight, tense game," he predicted. "I imagine there'll be some nerves out there because both teams have everything to gain and everything to lose." With Barthez's return drawing ever nearer, Coupet has more to gain than most.
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