Big gamble as Spain stay loyal to Casillas

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque could make wholesale changes for this evening’s make-or-break World Cup Group B game against Chile in Rio.

Big gamble as Spain stay loyal to Casillas

But one man sure to keep his place is La Roja captain Iker Casillas pictured — despite the Real Madrid keeper’s calamitous display in Friday’s 5-1 defeat to Holland.

Casillas had a shocker, watching Robin Van Persie’s headed equaliser fly over his head, completely missing the cross from which Stefan De Vrij scored the third goal, and then being embarrassingly robbed in possession by Van Persie for number four. That poor performance had been coming — with Casillas making a similarly bad clanger in the Champions League final, though Real went on to win.

Doubts over the 33-year-old were circulating even before then. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho first dropped him in December 2012. That was widely thought to have been due to personal differences, but current Bernabeu boss Carlo Ancelotti has also not shown complete faith — playing Diego Lopez instead in each 2013/14 La Liga game. These problems led to widespread calls for David De Gea to get a chance for the national side. Manchester United’s young keeper is in the World Cup squad, but got just seven minutes action in one warm-up friendly and has now picked up a minor hip problem in training.

Liverpool’s Pepe Reina is the squad’s third keeper, but Reina has long accepted his ancillary role at this level. Barcelona’s Victor Valdes was more serious competition for Casillas, but he is absent due to injury.

Del Bosque was never going to drop Casillas anyway. Asked after the Dutch game if he would consider changing his keeper, the answer was clear.

“The defeat was not due to the performance of just one player, but from the whole team’s weakness,” he said. “We cannot start to blame any individual, and even less Casillas. We are all to blame.”

In Saturday’s pre-training chat with the media, Del Bosque placed Casillas at the centre of Spain’s plans to recover ahead of the Chile game. “When I returned to the dressing room, Casillas was talking,” Del Bosque said. “He acted like a captain, took personal blame for some things, while laying the first stone for a recovery.”

The veteran coach’s supportive position is not so surprising, given he and his captain have a long history. Over two decades ago, when nine-year-old Iker joined Madrid, the club’s youth system was run by Del Bosque.

Ten years later they won the Champions League together, as teenage goalkeeper and avuncular first team coach. A decade on and the pair were celebrating Spain’s World Cup win in South Africa.

Even during Casillas’ struggles with Mourinho, Del Bosque stuck with him, partly due to a feeling ‘Saint Iker’ had sacrificed his club starting spot to mend a growing rift in the national squad after ‘clasico’ battles between Barcelona and Madrid players ahead of Euro 2012. Before last summer’s Confederations Cup, many pundits felt it was time for Valdes to become Spain’s No.1. Not Del Bosque. Valdes and Reina both played a group game. However Casillas started the final, when he was criticised for his performance, especially for Fred’s close-range opener in Brazil’s 3-0 win.

This loyalty goes two-ways, with Casillas having backed his mentor when Madrid president Florentino Perez surprisingly sacked Del Bosque back in 2003.

“We have a very good relationship,” Iker told English magazine The Green Soccer Journal last month. “He is a simple person, a very good person. I believe he is the man to be national coach, as everyone likes him and Spain is so happy with him.”

Should he play and Spain not win tonight, then Del Bosque’s loyalty to his friend will colour how both are remembered.

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