Spanish fans put faith in 'Saint Iker'
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG - So much for the theory that curvaceous sideline television reporter Sara Carbonero had taken Spanish goalie Iker Casillas off his, ah, game.
When Spain was upset 1-0 in its opening match against Switzerland at World Cup 2010, critics accused Casillas of being distracted by Carbonero, his main squeeze.
All Casillas has done since those foolish suggestions is lead Spain to five consecutive victories and a berth in the World Cup final against The Netherlands Sunday.
Over that span, he has allowed just one goal in 450-plus minutes of action, a remarkable streak that bodes well for Spain's chances of capturing its first-ever World Cup crown.
It hasn't necessarily come easy for him, either.
His penalty stop on Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo preserved a scoreless tie and was the turning point in Spain's 1-0 quarterfinal victory. He did the same in the semi versus Germany, thwarting Toni Kroos just minutes before the Spanish scored the only goal of the game.
Now comes the matchup against the Netherlands. It will be, he said, the most crucial match ever played by the Spanish national team.
"The game against Holland is the most important game in our history," Casillas said Friday. "But we are not champions yet.
"There are conflicting feelings. We're neither very confident that we will win nor are we fearful of losing."
Casillas is not buying into the notion that the Dutch will play a conservative game.
"I do not think they are defensive," he said. "They have quick players and, like us, they will remain faithful to their style. We know that (Arjen) Robben is fast, powerful and strong. I am concerned that if he pulls from the outside, we have to try to cover him.
"But Holland are not only about Robben. They are strong in defence and in midfield. (Wesley) Sneijder and (Dirk) Kuyt are also important and just as dangerous."
In the battle of title match goalkeepers, Casillas has the distinct advantage in terms of experience, coming into the game with 110 caps. By comparison, his Dutch counterpart, Maarten Stekelenburg, has just 32.
Yet another reason why the Spanish fans, who call him "Saint Iker," are very optimistic about Sunday's result.