Casillas lauds Spain's teamwork ahead of WC semi
Spain captain Iker Casillas believes that his squad's teamwork and commitment to attractive football are the reasons why it has made it to the World Cup semifinals, while teams led by superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have not.
Casillas captains the European champions in a national record 53rd match - Wednesday's semifinal meeting with Germany.
"We know that the Germany match is the most important in our history," Casillas ahead of Wednesday's game at Moses Mabhida Stadium. "Even more than the Euro 2008 final in Austria."
The image of Casillas raising the trophy after that 1-0 victory over Germany is engrained in Spanish football history since it ended 44 years without a major triumph for the perennial dark horse.
Most importantly, it turned a deeply talented team of creative players from contenders into champions, with Casillas leading the team all the way through.
"With a little patience we've been able to win the respect of world football," said Casillas, who saw the decision to entrust an attractive, possession-based game begin under former coach Inaki Saez. "The past two or three years Spaniards have been winning titles at the club level and with the national team and that's been important for Spanish football."
Earlier Tuesday, UEFA president Michel Platini praised Europe's three World Cup semifinal teams for promoting young, creative players.
"They are all teams that are playing in different ways, who are giving a little bit more than the rest, so they have the right to be among the world's four best," said Casillas, who was clear to point out that Spain is different from the rest.
"Germany is physical, Holland is quick and Uruguay is the representation of South American football. Spain is the newcomer of these past few years, the team that has won the most praise. Everyone knows Spain now, people have copied us."
Even the Dutch have managed to avoid the usual infighting that had previously wrecked promising World Cup campaigns. Casillas reasons team spirit has a lot to do with Argentina and Portugal not living up to expectations.
"I'm surprised that two of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, didn't get further," he said. "It shows you that a team is not just one player. A player can win the tournament for you, like Argentina with (Diego) Maradona. A player can be in great form but, in the end, everything depends on teamwork."
Nicknamed "Saint Iker," Casillas has been Spain's first-choice keeper almost exclusively since his debut in 2000. Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes, likely starters on most other national teams, can only watch on from the sidelines in South Africa.
Only the Jules Rimet trophy is missing from Casillas' impressive resume as he has helped Madrid to a number of domestic, European and international triumphs. Casillas credits his leadership to the long list of former captains he played under.
"I've had luck. When I started out I had captains like (Fernando) Hierro, Raul (Gonazalez), Abelardo Fernandez - very important Spanish footballers that I could observe and learn from," said Casillas, who is 17 appearances shy of matching Andoni Zubizarreta's record 126 for Spain. "I got the best of each group, and there have been many ... Now it's my turn, I'm the veteran and I try to transmit what I have learned."
That seems to be working as Spain has lost only two games in over three years.
"He gives us such great confidence and we know how many times he's saved us," said striker David Villa, who leads the tournament with five goals. "Not just on penalties but (in regular play) too."
Casillas even has a more commanding air about him as he dons a beard in South Africa.
"People tell me I look more manly," Casillas said. "But one day I'll cut it off."