By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The nightmare is over. Iker Casillas was benched by Jose Mourinho in December of last year, then suffered injury upon his return and never played another minute under the Portuguese coach at Real Madrid last season.
And although the Spain skipper seems set to return to his place between the sticks for his club in 2013-14, he now faces a fight to hold onto his starting spot with la Roja.
Casillas made his international comeback against Haiti in a friendly in Miami a week ago and then replaced Victor Valdes against Ireland in New York, making two superb saves in his second-half showing.
That will have been pleasing for coach Vicente del Bosque, yet it appears not to have been enough to earn the skipper the nod as Spain start their Confederations Cup campaign against Uruguay on Sunday.
|CASILLAS' CHAOS - A TIMELINE
|DROPPED BY MOURINHO
||The Real Madrid captain is left on the bench for the league game against Malaga as Adan starts|
|BACK ON AFTER ADAN'S RED CARD
|JAN 6th||Casillas comes on against Real Sociedad after Adan is sent off for bringing down Carlos Vela|
|SUFFERS HAND FRACTURE
||Sidelined with a bad injury after taking a kick to the hand from Alvaro Arbeloa at Valencia|
|MADRID SIGN DIEGO LOPEZ
||With Casillas sidelined, Mourinho brings in Diego Lopez from Sevilla on a long-term deal|
|MADE TO WAIT BY MOURINHO
|MAR 29th||Iker is ready to return, but his coach claims he is "not match fit" and he sits out once more|
|BBACK ON THE BENCH
||Back in the Madrid squad but does not feature again in the first team for the rest of the season|
|BMOURINHO: "I PREFER DIEGO LOPEZ"
||The Madrid coach once said Iker was the world's best but now claims he likes Diego Lopez better|
|BLEFT OUT FOR MOU'S LAST GAME
||The Portuguese leaves the goalkeeper out of the squad for the game against Osasuna|
|BMAKES SPAIN RETURN
||Starts in 2-1 win over Haiti and makes two good saves after coming on against Ireland three days later|
|BSET TO START ON BENCH
||The Spain skipper looks likely to start on the bench as la Roja kick off at the Confederations Cup|
The word from within the Spain camp is that the Catalan will start la Roja's first Confederations Cup game, having been teamed on the same side as the first-choice back line in training and also been chosen to speak at one of the pre-match press conferences on Friday.
Del Bosque, who always looks to be fair with his team selections, remains grateful to Valdes for his heroics as Spain beat France in Paris back in March in the teams' crucial World Cup qualifier and looks set to reward the Barcelona shot-stopper with a starting spot.
"I will do what I am asked and Del Bosque will decide," Valdes said on Friday. And of Casillas, the Catalan added: "He is doing well, the same as always; he is on top form and raring to go. He is very motivated, on and off the pitch. It's important we have healthy competition - it helps the team."
Del Bosque, meanwhile, has remained diplomatic. "We have three magnificent goalkeepers and whichever one I choose, it won't be a mistake," the coach claimed on Friday. And he was positive about his captain's form, despite the Madrid man's inactivity over the last few months. "From the first day, we have not seen much effect from Casillas' break from action," he explained.
In the long term, Iker looks likely to regain his place for country as well as club (he is almost certain to be restored to the starting line-up under Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid next season), yet for the moment he will have to fight for his place in the national team, something he has seldom had to do in the past.
With three group games plus a probable semi-final and possibly a final to come later on in Brazil, however, there is still time for Casillas in the Confederations Cup as Del Bosque considers sharing the minutes between all three goalkeepers.
In fact, the World Cup-winning coach is thought to be contemplating a different shot-stopper for all three group games before deciding on a definite starter for the latter stages of the competition.
For Casillas (as well as the rest of his team-mates), it is a trophy he has yet to win and as Spain seek to claim the Confederations Cup for the first time, the captain is arguably also playing for his future in the national side.
So he may not start on Sunday, but he will not want to be on the sidelines in a year's time as Spain return to Brazil to defend the World Cup they claimed in South Africa in 2010.
Starting for Madrid in 2013-14 will help him in that respect, but after all the problems he has endured at the Santiago Bernabeu recently, Casillas can no longer consider himself an automatic choice for club nor country - something which was considered as gospel in the past.
Now, with Diego Lopez (who was excellent for Madrid in the second half of the season and has rejected a move to Monaco in order to compete with Casillas next term) and Valdes for Spain, Iker faces a fight for both berths.
While he may be widely considered the best keeper in the world, Iker now has to prove himself all over again or face being on the bench for the team he has captained to two European Championship crowns and a World Cup win in a record 145 appearances.
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