Following Spain’s 1-5 defeat to a marauding a Netherlands side on Friday, team captain and most-capped player Iker Casillas took responsibility for his team’s terrible start to their title defense.
“The first thing I have to do is offer a mea culpa,” Casillas stated after the game. “This is the worst performance of my career. We have to say sorry. Holland were very good, we were the complete opposite. Sometimes it’s good for things like this to happen so that you can react but we have to react now.”
With only two league appearances for Real Madrid this season, Spain Coach Vincente del Bosque showed plenty of faith in Casillas by keeping him in the starting XI ahead of two other world-class goal keepers, who seemed to be in better form than the successful veteran. Now with hindsight it seems like that faith may damage la Roja’s chances of advancing into the knockout phases.
Though the Spanish defense and midfield should also shoulder some blame for the heavy loss. The 33-year-old’s heavy first touch to gift Robin Van Persie his second goal of the game, along with his failed frantic scramble to stop Arjen Robben scoring his brace, seemed like a far cry from a player who is widely acknowledged as one of the most talented and decorated stoppers of his generation.
The Spanish defense and midfield should also shoulder some blame for the heavy loss. Del Bosque echoed this when he came to the defense of his captain after the game, saying this: “Defeats happen as a result of weaknesses in the entire squad, but least of all because of the performance of Iker Casillas.”
In 2010 Spain overcame the setback of losing its first group game 0-1 to Switzerland, becoming the first side to do so and then go onto win the World Cup. For a side which hadn’t conceded five goals in an international since 1963 though, this time the route to the trophy seems far bleaker.
Casillas’ quick rise from a 21-year-old understudy to the Spanish starting XI is on every decent freak injury piece you’ll come across. Before the 2002 World Cup, then-first choice ‘keeper Santiago Cañizares dropped a bottle of aftershave on his foot and severed a tendon, ruling him out of the tournament. Casillas’ performance as the competition’s youngest starting keeper was so impressive that his place has never been in doubt, up until recently.
The 2012 La Liga season saw Casillas’ previously immovable place as Real Madrid’s starting goalkeeper began to weaken as a rift developed between him and José Mourinho. In January of 2013 the “Special One” signed Sevilla goalkeeper Diego López, to cover for the injured Casillas. López eventually became the Real Madrid starter as tensions at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium continued to grow frostier.
When Carlo Ancelloti replaced Mourinho he kept López as the first choice La Liga ‘keeper. Casillas was left to start in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. In the domestic cup he impressively maintained clean sheets up until the the final, which Madrid won 1-2 against Barcelona. Los Blancos also went on to win the Champion’s League final 4-1 against local rivals Atlético Madrid, but Casillas’ misstep into no man’s land for Atlético’s 36th minute opener revealed a shakiness that seemed to justify his relegation to a backup role in the league.
Casillas’ future in this World Cup is certainly questionable. Except in case injury or off-field transgressions, it’s considered detrimental to a squad’s spirit and structure, and therefore rare to remove the team’s captain from the starting XI mid-tournament. That said, Spain’s World Cup squad boasts arguably the best goalkeeping line up in the entire tournament and would be the the best equipped to replace such an important position.
In his third season at Manchester United, David De Gea’s growing confidence and command of his role was one of the silver linings of an otherwise forgettable year for the Red Devils. With similar national youth team honors to his veteran counterpart, the 23-year-old represents the future in the same way that Casillas did back in 2002. But DeGea suffered an injury that has him out of contention for the next two matches.
After Liverpool signed Simon Mignolet form Sunderland, Pepe Reina’s loan move to Napoli allowed him the chance to earn minutes without having to compete for the starting spot. The move also reunited him with former Reds manager Rafa Benitez. Despite short injury spells in December and January, Reina helped the Serie A side to third place, earning ten league clean sheets. Reina appears to be a popular figure within the squad, but whether that can translate to the leadership role that Casillas commands remains to be seen.
The decision that del Bosque faces may be the biggest one he has to make this tournament. Cutting your team captain and such a long-standing, integral member of the side is drastic. Then again, for the defending champions to start the tournament with the country’s third worst defeat in their history, something drastic may be required to advance to the knockout stages.