In Defense of Iker Casillas

OK, I’m a little late to the party but I spent the last five days on the road and haven’t been able to really take a look at the Spain-Holland game until just now.

I am surprised by the large amount of commentators and fans blaming Cassilas for Robin van Persie’s fantastic equalizer. Many claim that it was similar to his error in the Champions League Final. Having looked at the video many times now, I have to say that, in my opinion, Casillas was in the right position. The only thing he can be blamed for is getting caught playing the percentages.

That is not to say that Casillas played a great game. Far from it. He was at least partly to blame for the third goal and he bore all of the responsibility for the fourth.

None of his other actions that night will make it to his career highlight reel, but then again, the same can be said of most of his Spain teammates. But whatever you want to blame Iker for, the van Persie goal is not one of them.

In the Champions League final, Casillas ran out to the penalty spot to try to intercept a ball that was played to a striker who was covered by a defender, only to be chipped. That was a certified howler. The Holland goal was not.

Let’s go to the replay

The Guardian has a great photo-by-photo breakdown of the goal that you can read here. I took the picture taken just before the ball gets to van Persie and photoshopped Casillas out (admittedly not very well). Look at the picture below and ask yourself where you would position yourself in a situation like this. Then check out the article to see where Casillas was. I’m convinced that the position you chose was very close to Iker’s….or at least it should be

vanpersienogoalie

When the cross is played, Casillas is on his six yard line. The bending ball drops just inside the penalty box and is too far away from the goal for Casillas to intercept so he stays in his position. But as fantastic as it is, the pass by Blind is a little on the high side for van Persie as he makes his run. A one-touch volley, or any other kind of shot, is not a possibility. So RVP has three options:

  1. Chest the ball down and either shoot or run to goal.
  2. Head the ball on goal to the near post
  3. Header flicked to the far post.
  4. Chip the ball over Casillas.

Because of the direction and speed of his run, the first option would take Robin away from the goal as he controls the ball, and narrows his shooting angle, even if it would put the ball on his favored, and deadly, left foot. A header to the near post from sixteen yards out would need a lot of power to beat a keeper like Casillas, while a flicking header to the far post needs to be both powerful and accurate. Chipping a header would require a dive and a touch gentle enough to get the trajectory required yet powerful enough to reach the goal before Casillas gets back to his line.

By standing where he was, Casillas was in a position to minimize all four threats. Any further forward and chipping the keeper would be a lot easier. Any further back and Casillas gives the striker a better angle to both the near and the far post. No matter what option van Persie chooses, it will require an exceptional finish to beat the keeper. Unfortunately for Casillas, that is exactly what happens. RVP chooses the most audacious option and executes it perfectly. Of course, it took a little luck, but that’s soccer. Later in the game Van Persie has an equally magnificent finish that rattles the cross bar. Casillas is also correctly positioned for that shot, and this time Lady Luck smiles on the Spaniard rather than the Dutchman.

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

Despite the defeat, it is way too early to declare an end to the era of Casillas, the Spanish National Team and/or tiki-taka. The final score might not indicate it, but the Spaniards were close to putting the game away in the first half. If David Silva converts one of the two good chances he had early on, Spain is up 2-0 in the first half and we are looking at a completely different game. Del Bosque, Casillas and the rest of the Spanish squad know this. They are amongst the most experienced teams at the World Cup and I think the loss will only strengthen their resolve and focus. Wins over Chile and Australia would put Spain in a good position to move on to the knock-out stages. There is a chance that they might have to play Brazil in the round of 16 and the “Selecao” (or any other team for that matter) would be well advised not to underestimate the reigning World Champions.

The win is a great start for the Dutch but as somebody who has been bleeding Orange for almost half a century, I’m always anxious of the over-confidence that invariably seems to follow a great victory like this one. I’m reminded of the 2008 European Championship where, in the group stage, the team dispatched the 2006 Word Champion Italy (3-0 ) and runners-up France (4-1) in convincing fashion only to fall to Guus Hiddink and Arshavin’s Russia in the semis (1-3 AET). The Dutch are firmly in charge of their own destiny, and a first place in the group would allow them to (most likely) avoid Brazil in the round of 16, enabling them to possibly make a deep run. But the team will have to keep its focus, and take care of business in the group stage first.

Another Spain-Holland final? It can still happen. If it does, my money is on Casillas being in goal.

Johan

 

07/23/14  Post Script after Spain exits in the Group Stage:

Obviously, I was wrong. Looking back, rather than quoting Mark Twain, I should have gone with Monty Python (“this parrot is no more”). Thankfully for both myself and my passengers, I’m a better pilot than I am a pundit.

Whenever a dynasty comes to an end; be it through war, revolution or decay, it is impossible to properly analyze the reasons without at least a partial view from the inside. Ever since I forgot Vincente del Bosque’s birthday several years ago, he stopped returning my calls, so somebody with more access than myself will have to do the autopsy. Was Spain’s disappointing World Cup campaign due to the players being too old, did they lack desire after all the years of success, was there a lack of unity, or were the players fatigued because Real, Barca and Atletico were all involved in the chase for the “Treble” until very late in the season? Did Mourinho and Ancelotti bench Casillas because he lost his edge or did Casillas lose his edge because Mourinho and Ancelotti benched him? I don’t know.

What I do know is that this Spanish team will be remembered long after its last members have retired. It had an unmatched run spanning almost a decade during which time its members won everything there is to win, both on the national and the club level. Like Hungary in the 50’s and Holland in the 70’s, Spain changed the way the game is played forever. Stalwarts like Iniesta, Xavi and Casillas will be enshrined in the Pantheon of the immortals of the game, and right fully so, even though it is unclear what the immediate future holds for them, especially in Casillas’ case. Reports have him leaving Real Madrid on a free transfer, and if that proves to be true, maybe he will join David Villa in a move to the MLS, the current favorite retirement home location for aging European stars. I would love to have the opportunity to see him play in person in something other than an exhibition match.

On September 5, 2014, Spain will begin its qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 with a match against Macedonia. The Spaniards are in a group with Ukraine, Slovakia, Macedonia, Belarus and Luxembourg. Not the toughest group, which affords Spain the opportunity to rebuild using the next generation of talented players at their disposal, such as de Gea, Azpilicuata, Alba and Mata. Count on them being a factor in France two years from now.

Of course, that is just my opinion….I could be wrong.

About Coach Johan

I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and have been playing "real football" since I was old enough to identify a ball. Currently residing in Maryland, I hold USSF “D” and NSCAA “National” Goalkeeping coaching licenses, and have been a part-time Assistant / Goalkeeping Coach at the High School, Club, ODP and NCAA Div 1 levels since 1999. When not playing, talking, writing or thinking about football and goalkeeping, I remind airline passengers to keep their seatbelts comfortably fastened around them, in my day job as a pilot for a major US airline. I can be reached at jdevicq at icloud dot com. Please note that I do not do private training or camps
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