There is always a sense of inevitability when Vicente Del Bosque announces his Spain squads. There are a core of loyal lieutenants who have seen him over the line in the last two European Champions and World Cup. Sergio Ramos, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and the man who has captained the side to an historic treble, Iker Casillas, are probably the first names on Del Bosque’s list.
More recently there has been a spanner thrown into the works. Casillas lost his place at club level under Jose Mourinho in the winter of 2012, not playing a single minute between the arrival of Diego Lopez and the end of the 2012-13 season. This did not deter the Spain Coach from selecting his captain for the Confederations Cup, where Spain were eventual runners up – Casillas playing three games in total, including the semi-final and final.
With the Portuguese gone from Real Madrid, it was felt normal service would be resumed. However, Carlo Ancelotti made a huge call at the start of his reign in the capital to start Lopez in the first league game of the season, a 2-1 win over Real Betis.
Fast forward 25 League games and seven months later, Casillas has still not played a single minute in La Liga, with Ancelotti using him exclusively in the Copa del Rey and Champions League. A grand total of five group games – two of which came against FC Copenhagen – and one quite literal knock-out tie against Schalke, added to eight Copa del Rey ties, including two against third division side Olympic Xativa, means that Casillas has played only 13 games this campaign.
One man who has not struggled for game time is Victor Valdes, Barcelona’s undisputed No.1. He shared goalkeeping duties with Casillas in qualification, somewhat unfairly given the Calatan’s form and the Madrid captain’s lack of playing time. Once again on Wednesday Del Bosque could not chose between the two, giving them 45 minutes each, perhaps hoping for one of them to commit a howler, to produce a paradon, to help facilitate his decision. A straightforward enough 1-0 victory later and he’s stuck at square one.
Del Bosque is now faced with one of the biggest decisions of his time as Spain boss. There is a real chance that Casillas could only play four games between now and the end of the season, depending on the Champions League draw, whilst Valdes is guaranteed at least another 12 games in the League alone.
There might be a national media meltdown, but Del Bosque needs to think long and hard if his side can realistically go for their fourth successive major tournament with a goalkeeper lacking match practice. Whilst it might seem harsh on Casillas, who has lead Spain to such glory over the last six years, there is little room for sentiment in football. Should he choose Valdes, Del Bosque would be totally justified in his decision.