Spain victory lies in the hands of Casillas


VIENNA, Austria — A freak accident gave Iker Casillas the spot as Spain’s No. 1 goalkeeper. It’s not by chance that he’s kept the position for six years.

At age 27, Casillas has emerged as one of the world’s best goalkeepers and a key to Spain’s success at the European Championship. The Real Madrid player and Spain captain has only allowed two regular-time goals in the tournament, both in the group stage. He saved two penalty kicks in the quarter-finals as Spain beat Italy 4-2 in a shootout after a 0-0 draw.

By contrast, his opponent at the other end of Ernst Happel Stadium on Sunday — Germany’s Jens Lehmann — has let in six goals, including four in the knockout stage.

Besides his quick reflexes, Casillas’ low-key demeanour suits coach Luis Aragones, who occasionally clashed with Spain’s previous captain, striker Raul Gonzalez, and dropped him from the squad in qualifying for Euro 2008.

“Iker is the perfect captain. He is a 10 in everything, as a goalkeeper, as a captain and in the way he behaves. He’s got things crystal clear,” Aragones said. “He’s a phenomenon.”

If Casillas, who comes from the Madrid suburb of Mostoles, lifts the European Championship trophy Sunday he will be the first Spaniard to do so since 1964, when “La Seleccion” beat the Soviet Union 2-1 to win its only major title. He will also cement his place in Spanish football history among goalkeeping greats like Luis Arconada and Andoni Zubizarreta.

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