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Casillas ready for record-equalling Wembley return
Published : 11 Nov 2011 14:16:59Rss feed
Spain captain Iker Casillas will make an emotional return to Wembley when he wins a record-equalling 126th cap for the world champions in Saturday's friendly against England.
Just over 11 years after making his debut against Sweden in Gothenburg, Casillas will draw level with the record number of Spanish appearances held by legendary goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta.
In that time, the 30-year-old has provided the rock-solid foundation for Spain's rise from international also-rans to their current position as the game's pre-eminent force.
Widely regarded as one of the top two or three goalkeepers of his generation, Real Madrid keeper Casillas played starring roles in Spain's triumphs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
But one of his fondest memories remains his first appearance for his country's Under-15 team at the old Wembley in 1996 and he admits it is fitting his landmark cap will be won at the re-built English national stadium.
"I had only been playing for Madrid in the youth teams so to step out on the hallowed turf at Wembley aged 14 was fantastic," Casillas said on Friday.
"There are a lot of fond memories of that time and to experience the new Wembley will be a nice feeling.
"I'm very motivated for this game. If I play at Wembley then I will equal Zubizarreta's record, which is incredible and something I would never have dreamed of.
"Now I want to enjoy Saturday and make it a date I will remember for the rest of my life."
Casillas has been Spain's Mr Consistency for over a decade, but one save stands out above all the others for both the man himself and his international team-mate Xavi.
When Holland winger Arjen Robben ran clean through on goal in the World Cup final in Johannesburg, it seemed certain he would score and perhaps send Spain to a shock defeat, but Casillas somehow managed to block his shot with an out-stretched leg.
"When push comes to shove and we needed him most, Iker has saved us so many times, I can think of penalty shoot-outs and great saves in so many matches," Xavi said.
"If I had to pick one it would be in the final of the World Cup when Robben was going through.
"If Holland had scored then it might have been a different result but Iker stepped up and made a great save. It might not have been the prettiest but it was the most decisive."
Casillas added: "That stop, at such a decisive time, possibily turned the game in our favour. It was a standard save but it was the one I am most proud of because it was such an important occasion."
Spain arrive in London feted as the world's best team and Vicente del Bosque's stars are expected to dish out a footballing lesson to an under-strength England as they look for their first win at Wembley since 1981.
Casillas believes the praise showered on his team is deserved, but he knows they must not rest on their laurels.
"We are playing at a very high level. That is a fact and it's not just us saying that, experts around the world consider us to be number one and we are happy to be able to show Spanish football in this way," Casillas said.
"We have kept a good group of players together from youth levels to the national team and hopefully we can keep this run going because we have a lot of good players coming through.
"But we must not drop our guard because it will be a lot harder this time. We will be going to Poland and Ukraine for the Euro finals with a lot more pressure on us."