Bernabeu shot-stopper set to make history.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the rock behind Spain’s Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup triumphs, will equal the country’s appearances record against England on Saturday.
The 30-year-old, known as ‘Saint Iker’, will be winning his 126th cap to match Andoni Zubizarreta’s record, 11 years after making his debut in a 1-1 friendly draw in Sweden.
The achievement is all the more impressive considering the Spain and Real captain has had to fend off competition for the number one jersey from one of the strongest pools of goalkeeping talent in the world.
Watching from the Spain bench at Wembley will be Barcelona custodian Victor Valdes, a three-times Champions League winner, and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina.
The fact that Spaniards keep goal at two of England’s leading clubs, Liverpool and Manchester United with David de Gea, illustrates the breadth of competency the Spanish have in the position and highlights a problem for the hosts.
England boss Fabio Capello will have Manchester City’s promising Joe Hart between the posts, supported by Bursapor’s Scott Carson and David Stockdale from Championship side Ipswich Town.
“There is a debate in Spain that perhaps Valdes, who is also a great goalkeeper, should be in the team instead of Casillas, but really there is no motive to change him,” Santi Canizares said.
“He is an exemplary figure, he is the captain and the player who has made most international appearances.
“He was lucky to arrive at the first team with Real and then with the national team at a very young age and has had the quality to retain his place, which was very difficult.
“He’s one of those people who has won the respect of absolutely everyone.”
Canizares, who was instantly recognisable for his bleached-blond hair, detailed the qualities of the man who replaced him as Spain’s number one.
“He is very quick in every situation,” he said. “He is very powerful and this gives him very quick reactions, and he is able to reach things practically no one else can get anywhere near.
“He is exceptional in one-on-ones. His problems are, perhaps, more with the high ball or with the ball at his feet, but it is certain he has improved a lot in these areas.”
Outstanding Casillas moments include his two penalty saves in the Euro 2008 quarter-final shootout against Italy, a match widely considered to have been the making of the current Spain team, and his one-on-one save with his foot from Arjen Robben in the World Cup final against Netherlands.
When asked about Spain’s gifted crop of goalkeepers, Canizares denied that it was anything unusual.
“We have always had good goalkeepers so it isn’t a surprise,” he said.
“But it is true that in the last 10 years we have seen the emergence of many great goalkeepers but also defenders, midfielders and strikers. Everything has improved in Spain over the last 10 years.”