50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #46 Iker Casillas
Just past the hour mark, when Sneijder played him clear down the centre, Arjen Robben must have felt like the fairytale was building up to its grand climax and that haven was just a few strides away. But life is not a washed up scriptwriter's one-dimensional handiwork.
He was up against La Furia Roja, the matadors who had bullwhipped their way into billions of hearts and also to the FIFA World Cup final in South Africa. Their quality was so evenly sprinkled that you had to get the better of every last one of 'em or remain seated at the gates of glory and applaud them.
Iker Casillas. A just-about-6-foot unflinching minefield of a man who is hell-bent on letting nothing past. Robben could go either side of Iker and he chose to curl it in, as is comfortable for him. But the Dutchman's shot would deflect out of relevance, dismissed by the trailing leg of Casillas who always had it covered.
A few minutes later, Arjen Robben, this time focussed and sharp like a spear drove through the heart of Spain's defence and sent Puyol spiralling like a ragged doll before hacking Pique to the ground. Robben hardly did anything wrong but before he could poke it into the net, Casillas had already arrived.
He swept the ball up from Robben's feet and kept Spain in the game for the second time that night. A goal saved is a goal earned. And Iker Casillas is one of the greatest ever to have made that a habit.
Casillas did use to get flak for his height and apparent inability to deal with crosses and corners in a manner that behoved a Spain and Real Madrid no.1 but you couldn't find anybody who was sharper in the area if you scouted the length of the world.
Usually, when a goalkeeper parries, the danger is only half cleared. Casillas' speed of recovery has disturbed many a floor thanks to the number of jaws that dropped. He'd get right back up and stretch himself as wide as he could to become the most annoying obstacle any striker has had the misfortune of going up against.
He kept it up for 20 odd years at the very top after having been first summoned for national duty at the age of 17. He was as immense as anybody in a Spain team and as influential as any in making them world beaters at one point.
Casillas saved twice in the quarter-match against the Republic of Ireland in the 2002 World Cup to drag Spain into the semi-final. Though they crashed out against South Korea under controversial circumstances, his wonder save from an absolute bullet from the left side of the box was rated as one of the top 10 saves of all time by FIFA.
"The Saint" was a natural leader and his bravado and charisma filled the box with an aura that needed pure magic to be shattered. Though it has faded with age and Robben and co. did get their revenge on Casi, when he was operating at his prime, he could cover both posts with the kindof explosiveness that left his peers jealous.
Iker Casillas has definitely left a mark on the game and he has pulled several dramatic saves that fits perfectly with the grandiosity of a football World Cup. He always kept Spain in the hunt and if the defenders failed, well, it was still aeons away from the end of the world.
In the 2010 World Cup, Spain could have faced a shock exit but Casillas denied Oscar Cardozo from the spot in normal time. David Villa would clinch a late winner in the game and of course, was hailed in grander terms than Casillas was. But San Iker didn't mind.
That he was their standout performer on the night of their lives served Casillas' phenomenal career right. And when he lifted the World Cup that night, the world gave him an ovation because who doesn't like it when true champions ascend to the throne?
And as is obvious, Iker Casillas is one of our 50 Greatest players in World Cup history.