Football already has one famous Casillas in Iker, the Real Madrid goalkeeper and Spain’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™-winning captain. A namesake of his may be about to burst on the scene, however, especially if his performance for the host nation in the opening game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 is anything to go by.
The teenager in question is attacking midfielder Giovani Casillas, who did the surname proud by turning in an outstanding display in his country's Group A opener against Korea DPR last Saturday.
“As far as I know we’re not related in any way,” said a chuckling Giovani of the other Casillas, who could be his club team-mate one day if the young Mexican fulfils his lifelong dream. “I’ll pull the gloves on after training sometimes and go in goal, but more often than not I end up fishing the ball out of the net.”
Casillas's natural habitat is further up the field, as he showed when leaping off the bench with an hour gone of Saturday’s match with the North Koreans. With the score tied at 1-1 and only seven minutes after coming on, the twinkle-toed attacker worked some space for himself down the left and sent in a dangerous near-post cross that defender Jong Kwang Sok glanced into his own net. Then, with four minutes remaining, the supersub was on hand to tuck away a loose ball in the box and set the seal on an impressive 3-1 for Mexico.
“I went to sleep very happy on Saturday,” said the winger, who can also slot into a central playmaking position if need be. “I was full of confidence when I came on but I never imagined anything like that.
"When I crossed the ball for our second goal I kept watching it as I fell over, and then I saw everyone celebrating. I couldn’t believe it. The ball fell nicely for me for the goal, though I still had a bit to do because the defender and the keeper closed down the angle. Thanks to God it went in and we were able to turn the game around.”
Despite Mexico’s nervy start, which saw them fall behind to the Asian side in the opening minutes, Casillas had no doubts they would come back to claim the points: “I just knew we’d turn it around because mentally we’re very strong. We need to avoid making the same mistakes against Congo though, because they’re tougher opponents than the North Koreans.”
Casillas, who lists compatriot Andres Guardado and Brazil’s Neymar among his role models, has nothing but respect for the dangerous Africans: “They’re tall, strong and won’t get tired because they’re used to the heat. They’ve also got two very good players in the centre-forward [Bel Epako] and the left-sided midfielder [Mavis Tchibota]. We’ll need to be on our guard against those two.”
A Guadalajara player since the age of ten and an ever-present in the national set-up since turning 14, Casillas would have no qualms about starting from the bench against Congo if required. “We’re all here to do our bit,” he said. “All that counts now is winning because six points virtually assures you a place in the last 16. Nothing else matters apart from that.”