Spain keeper Casillas shows why he's 'Saint Iker'
Once again, Spain's veteran goalkeeper showed why his nickname is ''Saint Iker.''
Iker Casillas bailed out his disorganized defense over and over in the second half Monday, making two clutch saves to preserve Spain's 1-0 victory over Croatia and send the defending champions to the European Championship quarterfinals.
''He can really save well in the important moments and that's what we need to have between the goal posts,'' Spain teammate Xabi Alonso said. ''We have Iker and we are thankful for that.''
Casillas got his hands up to stop Ivan Rakitic's point-blank header in the 59th minute and then got down to punch out Ivan Perisic's low volley in the 79th.
''I'm just lucky to play for this team,'' said Casillas, who now has 76 clean sheets in 134 appearances for Spain and stretched his record number of wins in international play to 98.
The 31-year-old Real Madrid goalkeeper is no stranger to game-saving heroics, having already shown his mettle in the World Cup final two years ago and in a penalty shootout victory over Italy at Euro 2008.
Casillas is playing at his seventh major championship with Spain since making his debut in a 1-1 draw against Sweden in June 2000. Casillas' presence in defense is also a big plus for center backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, who are partnering for the first time and who have looked shaky at times.
Casillas' knack for coming up with clutch saves when Spain needs it certainly instills confidence.
''We knew they weren't just going to sit back,'' Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. ''They had to come out and counterattack so their opportunities were expected and Casillas dealt with them very well.''
Casillas has been coming up big at major events since the 2002 World Cup. In Suwon, South Korea, Casillas saved Ian Harte's penalty kick in normal time before making a pair of saves in the shootout against Ireland to send Spain into the quarterfinals.
The Spain captain's performance in a penalty shootout victory over Italy four years ago was perhaps the most significant in shaping the current run of success enjoyed by Spain as it went on to lift its first major title in 44 years in Vienna.
And while Casillas has won a combined seven Champions League and Spanish league titles with Real Madrid, his performances at the 2010 World Cup were critical. His penalty stop against Paraguay forward Oscar Cardozo in the quarterfinals helped get Spain to the final, where he saved a chance from Arjen Robben as the Netherlands winger broke through alone in the 62nd minute.
''It's never easy,'' Casillas said. ''It's a lot of games and a lot of opponents who want to beat Spain.''
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP