Intrigue in Spain after Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas starts season on bench
Diego Lopez was a surprise starter in the opening La Liga game
Tuesday 20 August 2013
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be watching for Carlo Ancelotti's next Real Madrid starting XI with greater interest than usual after the Italian opened the La Liga campaign with Iker Casillas on the bench.
The 32-year-old goalkeeper, long-standing captain for both club and country, saw Diego Lopez surprisingly chosen ahead of him at home to Real Betis on Sunday, Ancelotti's competitive debut at the helm.
Casillas was dropped and then suffered a bone fracture in his hand which kept him sidelined for a number of weeks under Jose Mourinho last season. When he returned from injury, January transfer window signing Lopez remained first choice.
The fragmentation of support for Mourinho among the players, the fans and the media in his final months at the Bernabeu were in a large part put down to the decision to keep Casillas on the bench. Some felt it was personal rather than professional.
The arrival of the genial Ancelotti has seen an easing of those tensions in and around the club, and many expected Casillas to be restored to the number one jersey for the new campaign.
"I took this decision for today," Ancelotti said after Real squeaked a 2-1 win over Betis.
"It's a decision taken on small details. I made it for this game. We'll see what happens in the next one.
"I spoke to Casillas, he is very professional and he is keen to play."
Casillas has been undisputed first-choice keeper for club and country for more than a decade.
He was won two European Cups and five La Liga titles with Real, and captained the national team to their trio of consecutive titles at Euro 2008 and 2012, and at the World Cup finals in 2010.
Del Bosque has always stood by him, and took him to the Confederations Cup and Ecuador for last week's 2-0 friendly win, which may be one explanation for Ancelotti's decision.
Casillas played the first half in Guayaquil and Barcelona's Victor Valdes, hardly a poor alternative, the second, but a tougher choice may need to be made for Spain's upcoming World Cup qualifiers if the Madrid man is going to remain benched.
Spain top Group I by a point from France with three games left to play, and they travel to play third-placed Finland on Sept. 6, their last away fixture. The Finns held Spain to a 1-1 draw back in March.
Valdes said he was surprised by Ancelotti's decision at a news conference on Monday.
"I have seen Iker make saves no one thought possible," he said. "For me, he is the best but I shouldn't say any more because it isn't my team."
Lopez has performed well when called upon at Real, and is arguably better in the air and with his feet than Casillas, but the man he is replacing is a national institution.
Online polls run by Madrid-based sports dailies Marca and AS both showed a narrow majority of readers wanted to see Casillas restored to the number one slot.
Real's starting XI for next Monday's trip to play Granada in La Liga, a venue in which they suffered a 1-0 defeat last season, will be headline news in Spain and could have Del Bosque rethinking his plans for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil.
Latest in Sport
The muddy truth of the Christmas Truce game
Alexis Sanchez video: Turns out the Arsenal forward is brilliant at playing the piano too
Premier League: Chelsea vs West Ham match preview
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho: 'He's good looking, speaks five languages, wins everything - it's unfair'
The best sport selfies of 2014
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food