GDANSK, Poland (AFP)
It is to be hoped that nobody ever thought to ask Iker Casillas
what he might do for an encore after he first lifted the
Champions League as a 19-year-old.
Fast forward 12 years and the list of accomplishments is a
veritable cascade - another Champions League title, five La Liga
crowns, glory at Euro 2008, further glory at the 2010 World Cup,
Spain's most capped international, the most clean sheets of any
international goalkeeper, the list goes on.
Yet the 31-year-old may look back at Monday's narrow win over
Croatia with a particular sense of pride, when his 76th clean
sheet in 134 games ensured top spot in Group C but only after a
fine stop from a flying header by Ivan Rakitic.
That top drawer save showed once again just how Casillas
engenders confidence through the team right from the back and he
was in similar mode in the opening draw with Italy on June 10,
where he saved well from Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta to
ensure the holders did not get off to a losing start.
"We were very nervous and that didn't make it easy. We lacked a
little calm," Casillas admitted afterwards.
"It was a difficult, intense match," said the Furia Roja's
skipper, who was praised to the rafters in the press afterwards.
"Casillas avoids a catastrophe," headlined El Pais daily.
It was not the first time that the now veteran shot-stopper had
saved his side's bacon.
At the World Cup two years ago he came off best in a one-on-one
with Dutch flier Arjen Robben which ensured that Spain survived
to win in extra-time, making an unorthodox save with his right
Even before then he had been heroic in saving two penalties in
the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 to deny Italy and finally break
Spain's longstanding psychological barrier of not getting past
the last eight at major events - save for their Euro 1964
And in South Africa two summers ago he denied Paraguay's Oscar
Cardozo in the quarters from the spot to take his side through to
an ultimately successful semi-final win over Germany before the
Dutch were sent packing to give the Spanish their first world
Casillas is given widespread credit therefore for being the rock
on which Spain built both of their back-to-back triumphs which
now leave them tantalising close to an unparalleled third
consecutive major tournament win.
It falls to a vanquished rival to lavish final praise on Casillas
as the Spanish march on towards the business end of the
"What can I say about Casillas? We all know how good he is. he is
probably the greatest or one of the greatest goalkeepers in the
world these past ten years," said Croatian coach Slaven Bilic.
"He is calm, knows how to react to each piece of play and put
pressure on forwards."
He may not be the symbol of tiki-taka - but Casillas is no less
emblematic of this Spanish golden age.