Casillas legend grows ever larger
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 foot.
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 triumph.
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 title.
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 tournament.
"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.
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