Iker Casillas had done little to confirm his reputation as one of finest goalkeepers in the sport heading into Spain's quarter-final with Paraguay. The 29-year-old underlined his stature in the thickest of fonts at Ellis Park, however, denying Oscar Cardozo from the penalty spot in the 59th minute and producing a couple of decisive reflex saves to help La Roja into the FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals for the first time.
“The penalty save was incidental,” reflected the humble Casillas. “It was a pivotal moment and I was fortunate enough to save it. To tell the truth I dived that way because I’d been chatting about it with Pepe Reina before the game. He said that Cardozo usually hit the ball hard and to his right-hand side. So, it came down to a mix of intuition, good luck and a team-mate’s help.”
Reina explained: “He deserves all the credit because he’s the one who saved it. I don’t know if I helped or just confused him. I just mentioned it because that’s how Cardozo took a penalty against me for Benfica in a (UEFA Europa League) game.”
Fernando Torres was also full of praise for the Spain captain, who became the first man to save penalties in normal time at two different FIFA World Cups, having also denied Republic of Ireland’s Ian Harte in the Round of 16 of Korea/Japan 2002. “We’ve got great players throughout the side and there’s no doubt that today was Casillas’s day," said the Liverpool striker. "He deserves it."
Centre-back Carlos Marchena added: "We’ve got total faith in him as a keeper because he’s very good, and today he proved that emphatically.
Casillas was not alone in saving a spot-kick at Ellis Park. Paraguay's Justo Villar stopped Xabi Alonso’s retaken effort just three minutes after his Spanish counterpart had denied Cardozo. Yet just as it seemed that a goal would not arrive for either team, up popped David Villa to fire an 83rd-minute winner in off the far post.
“Iker, as always, was faultless,” said Villa of a goalkeeping display which also featured crucial one-on-one saves from both Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios in the 88th minute. “We know just how many times he’s come to our rescue and how many times he’ll do so in the future.”
“Iker’s always where he needs to be and it’s a real pleasure having him on our side,” said Barcelona central defender Gerard Pique, with club-mate Andres Iniesta voicing similar sentiments: “He’s always been there to help out whenever we’ve needed him.”
What is more, Casillas’s display against a brave Paraguay side has firmly silenced those doubters accusing him of a lack of concentration in the group stage of the tournament. Indeed, with just two goals conceded so far and his pivotal role in Spain reaching the semi-finals, confidence will not be lacking as ‘Saint Iker’ attempts to guide La Roja to the Trophy for the very first time.