The goalkeeper has won nine out of 10 finals for Real Madrid and Spain, conceding just five goals in the process. On Saturday, he'll start against Atletico in Lisbon
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Iker Casillas is a man for the big occasion. In 10 finals for Spain and Real Madrid (not including Supercups or one-off ties like the Intercontinental Cup), the 33-year-old goalkeeper has lost only once and conceded just five times. For club and country, he has always been something of a lucky charm and on Saturday, he can claim his very own Decima.
Casillas started this season on the bench for Real, but was given his chance by Carlo Ancelotti in the cup competitions and, after winning the Copa del Rey last month, he has the opportunity to add a third Champions League crown to his long list of titles in Lisbon this weekend.
"I want to win the Champions League," he said this week ahead of Saturday's final against Atletico. "But I especially want to win it for the Madrid fans. We deserve to win it once and for all. It was so long since I last won that the memories are fading. I was 19 and 21 in the last two and you live it differently. I'm even more excited about winning it now."
Casillas is the only survivor from Madrid's last Champions League win in 2002, when he came off the bench to replace the injured Cesar Sanchez and made several superb saves to deny Bayer Leverkusen and seal a ninth European Cup success for Los Blancos.
Indeed, it is often said that the best players are lucky and fortune never seems far from Casillas. In 2002, for example, he ended up playing in that Champions League final and then for Spain at the World Cup too after first-choice goalkeeper Santiago Canizares dropped a bottle of aftershave in the shower and severed a tendon in his foot - a freak injury which ruled the Valencia man out of the competition altogether and left the path clear for the Real Madrid stopper.
|IKER'S FINALS FOR CLUB & COUNTRY
|U-16 Euro '97: Spain 0-0 Austria (5-4 pens)
Meridian Cup 1999: Spain 2-1 Ghana
Champions League 2000: Madrid 3-0 Valencia
Champions League 2002: Madrid 2-1 L'kusen
Euro 2008: Spain 1-0 Germany
World Cup 2010: Spain 1-0 Netherlands
Copa del Rey 2011: Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
Euro 2012: Spain 4-0 Italy
Confederations Cup 2013: Brazil 3-0 Spain
Copa del Rey 2014: Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
"We're used to it," Sergio Ramos said last month after Casillas intervened to deny Mario Gotze with a key save which stopped Bayern Munich from making it 1-1 in the teams' Champions League semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. "Casillas is always there in the important moments."
Casillas' first final was for Spain's U-16 side in 1997 and he kept a clean sheet in the goalless game against Austria, with La Roja later winning 5-4 on penalties. His second showpiece then came in the Meridian Cup, a competition held between Uefa and Caf youth sides at international level. Spain met Ghana in the deciding match and won 2-1.
The goal scored by Bernard Dong Bortey (who years later admitted to being around seven years older than his official age) began a streak of 589 minutes (almost 10 hours) without conceding for Casillas in finals.
Those included the 2000 Champions League final (Madrid beat Valencia 3-0), the 2002 showpiece in the same competition (Real overcame Leverkusen 2-1 but the goal was let in by Cesar before his injury), the 1-0 victory over Germany in Euro 2008, the World Cup win against Netherlands by the same scoreline in 2010, Copa del Rey success against Barcelona in 2011 (1-0 after extra-time) and Euro 2012's 4-0 thrashing of Italy by Spain.
The run was finally broken in last year's Confederations Cup, when Casillas conceded after two minutes to Brazil's Fred and went on to let in two more in a 3-0 defeat.
In his most recent final, however, Casillas returned to winning ways as Madrid beat Barca 2-1 at Mestalla last month. Now the Champions League is in his sights and as the sole survivor from the club's last European triumph and winner of nine finals in his playing career, Casillas is also chasing a Decima of his own on Saturday. So Madridistas will hope their captain can lead them to another lucky landmark: a perfect 10.