Published July 06, 2010
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — David Villa may be leading the World Cup in goals scored with five, but Spain captain Iker Casillas says teamwork is the reason his squad is still alive when Lionel Messi's Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal are not.
"I'm surprised that two of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, didn't get further," said Casillas, the goalkeeper who will lead the European champions in their semifinal with Germany.
"It shows you that a team is not just one player. A player can win the tournament for you, like Argentina with (Diego) Maradona. A player can be in great form but, in the end, everything depends on teamwork."
Casillas ought to know — he has plenty of international experience. Wednesday's semifinal will be the 53rd in which he will be the Spanish captain, a national record.
"We know that the Germany match is the most important in our history," Casillas said. "Even more than the Euro 2008 final in Austria."
The image of Casillas raising the trophy after that 1-0 victory over Germany is a treasured memory for Spanish soccer fans — it marked the end of a major title drought for their nation that had lasted 44 years.
It also captured how Spain turned a deeply talented team from contenders into champions, with Casillas leading all the way through.
"With a little patience we've been able to win the respect of world football," said Casillas, who saw the decision to move to a stylish, possession-based game begin under former coach Inaki Saez.
"The past two or three years Spaniards have been winning titles at the club level and with the national team and that's been important for Spanish football."
Earlier Tuesday, UEFA president Michel Platini praised Europe's three World Cup semifinal teams for promoting young, creative players.
"They are all teams that are playing in different ways, who are giving a little bit more than the rest, so they have the right to be among the world's four best," said Casillas, who was quick to point out that Spain stands out from the rest.
"Germany is physical, Holland is quick and Uruguay is the representation of South American football. Spain is the newcomer of these past few years, the team that has won the most praise. Everyone knows Spain now, people have copied us."
Nicknamed "Saint Iker," Casillas has been Spain's first-string goalkeeper almost exclusively since his debut in 2000 — and he saved Spain in the quarterfinals by blocking Oscar Cardozo's low penalty kick in a 1-0 victory.
Only the World Cup title is missing from Casillas' impressive resume as he has helped Madrid to several domestic, European and international triumphs. Casillas credits his leadership to the long list of former captains he played under.
"I've had luck. When I started out I had captains like (Fernando) Hierro, Raul (Gonazalez), Abelardo Fernandez — very important Spanish footballers that I could observe and learn from," said Casillas, who is 17 appearances shy of matching Andoni Zubizarreta's record 126 for Spain. "I got the best of each group, and there have been many. ... Now it's my turn, I'm the veteran and I try to transmit what I have learned."
Whatever he's doing seems to be working. Spain has lost only two games in more than three years.
"He gives us such great confidence and we know how many times he's saved us," Villa said. "Not just on penalties but (in regular play) too."
Casillas even has a more commanding air about him these days, thanks to a beard he's been sporting in South Africa.
"People tell me I look more manly," Casillas said. "But one day I'll cut it off."