By the time Spain have completed their qualification for the European Championships goalkeeper Iker Casillas will have equalled Andoni Zubizarreta’s record for Spanish caps – an astonishing 126. What is even more incredible is that Casillas is still only 30 and could reach 200 International appearances before he retires.
It seems almost inconceivable that Real Madrid or Spain could not have Casillas in goal; he became the number one for Madrid in 1999/2000 aged just 19 years old. After the recent domination by Spain he has now won every major honour in the game but his hunger and desire remains. He is the captain of both club and country and remains one of the elite keepers in world football.
This remarkable career began in 1999 when he made his La Liga debut in a 2-2 draw with Athletic Bilbao; he had replaced the German goalkeeper Bodo Illgner. By the following season he had established himself as Madrid’s number one keeper and helped his side win the Champions League title that season. However, within two years he had been dropped after a run of poor performances but like true greats he responded in emphatic style.
He was named amongst the substitutes in the 2001/2 Champions League final at Hampden Park against Bayer Leverkusen with Cesar starting in goal. After 68 minutes his chance arrived after Cesar picked up an injury, the young Madridista grabbed his opportunity and produced a fabulous display in the remaining minutes of the game to win his second Champions League title. Since that day he has remained ever present as Madrid’s number one.
It is not simply his shot stopping that separates him from his rivals; it is his powers on concentration that put him above his nearest rivals. Playing for Madrid and Spain the goalkeeper is never going to have lots of work to do as both sides dominate possession for long periods. It is his ability to pull off a crucial save in the dying minutes of games that really distinguish him. Although not the most elegant keeper he has a remarkable knack of getting a body part in the way at the right time; his reflexes are extraordinary. He is also incredibly good at one on ones; in fact if I was to select a goalkeeper for that role there would be no competition.
Competition for the Spanish national side is growing ever fiercer; David de Gea, Pepe Reina and Victor Valdez are all waiting in the wings but the Spanish captain will not be relinquishing his role any time soon. When you consider he has 124 caps in 10 years so far he should easily complete another 76 in the next seven/eight years. The current record for most caps is held jointly by Mohamed Al-Deayea of Saudi Arabia and Claudio Suarez of Mexico who have played 178 times for their country. It will not be long until Iker Casillas becomes the most capped player in the history of the game and few deserve the accolade as much as he does.