Iker Casillas has played down his controversial omission from Real Madrid’s line-up against Malaga, insisting he must accept coach Jose Mourinho’s decision and focus on regaining his starting berth.
Mourinho caused a major stir after choosing to start with back-up goalkeeper Antonio Adan for the Primera Division clash at La Rosaleda in place of captain and long-serving number one Casillas.
Mourinho said after the match, which Madrid lost 3-2 to slump 16 points behind leaders Barcelona, that his decision was “purely technical”.
Casillas said last night: “The coach decides which team he thinks is best for each match and you need to accept the decision.
“I’m not used to being a substitute, but above Iker Casillas or any player is the team. What I need to do is continue training and try to recover the confidence of the coach.”
Casillas, who has won a host of titles with Madrid and captained Spain to the World Cup and back-to-back European Championships, added: “I feel good, but it is the coach who decides who plays. It will be a nice battle with Antonio. There is a healthy rivalry between us.’’
Mourinho, meanwhile, insists he does not regret dropping Casillas for the match.
He said: “Casillas? I have a clear conscience. I try to choose the best team for every game.”
Madrid defender Sergio Ramos concedes their title is now virtually lost but has demanded the team keep on fighting.
“Once again we have dropped important points, despite the team playing well in the first half, in which we had chances to score but we didn’t have any luck,” Ramos said.
Barcelona gave stand-in coach Jordi Roura a winning start as goals from Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello downed Real Valladolid 3-1 to re-establish a nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the Primera Division summit.
Roura is deputising for Tito Vilanova, who is after undergoing an operation on his parotid gland on Thursday, and saw his side take a 1-0 interval lead when Xavi tapped in Jordi Alba’s cross.
The Spain midfielder then set up Messi for his 91st and last goal of an extraordinary 2012 and, after Javi Guerra pulled one back, Tello rounded off the win in injury time.
In Italy, Lazio are the closest challengers to Serie A leaders Juventus after they moved up to second with a hard-fought 1-0 triumph at Sampdoria.
With Inter Milan being held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Genoa earlier on Saturday, the capital club took full advantage and Hernanes’ strike on the half hour was enough to win it.
In France, three teams share the lead in Ligue 1 heading into Christmas after Marseille joined Lyon and Paris St Germain at the summit by beating St Etienne last night.
In what is turning into one of the most exciting title races in years, Elie Baup’s men were once again indebted to one of the Ayew brothers – Andre on this occasion – as they kept themselves in the thick of things.
Ayew scored the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time to see off Les Verts, who themselves have gone from genuine title contenders to mid-table fodder over the past month.
They are now 11 points behind the leading trio, who are headed by Lyon on goal difference, and were guilty last night of failing to test home goalkeeper Steve Mandanda enough.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved