Spain moved a step closer to World Cup qualification on Friday night with a 2-0 win over Finland in Helsinki. Having stumbled to a draw the last time the two sides met, Vicente Del Bosque will be happy to have come away with a comfortable win.
Goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo took La Roja top of Group I, three points clear of France with just two games left to play – at home to Belarus and Georgia. Barring a disaster, they will travel to Brazil next summer to defend their crown.
A question that will be answered ahead of the tournament will be who Spain's starting goalkeeper is. For the last decade, Iker Casillas has been a mainstay of the side, playing a key part as they clinched two European Championships and that World Cup success.
Casillas marked his 150th cap with a clean sheet on Friday night, but his difficult spell at Real Madrid has cast doubts over the safety of his role as Spain's first choice goalkeeper. His regular absence last season was widely put down to a disagreement with then-Coach Jose Mourinho, but he has once again been losing minutes to Diego Lopez, despite Carlo Ancelotti's appointment.
Del Bosque tried to play down the situation in his post-match interview, saying “Iker? This isn’t the time for debate. Time will put everyone in their place. What happens at their club is a different matter entirely.”
Whilst the politics of Casillas' exclusion for Madrid are indeed a different matter, the fact remains that with such competition in the Spain squad, the captain can't afford to sit on the bench. Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina are now breathing down the 32-year-old's neck having watched on from the sidelines for many years, and an impressive season for David De Gea could thrust him into the frame.
Del Bosque did shed some light on Casillas' publicised differences with Mourinho, citing that Casillas' role as a peacemaker between Real Madrid and Barcelona players had aggravated Mourinho.
“He was a very important figure in keeping harmony in our national team. During difficult moments for the Spain team, when there were tensions arising from the matches between Madrid and Barcelona, he helped the national team to move forward and keep on winning trophies such as the last European Championships [in 2012]. That didn’t go down well, and Iker was undoubtedly harmed by that.”
Having been publicly praised – and defended – by his national team manager, Casillas' position looks to be safe for now. A rumoured move to Arsenal failed to materialise before the transfer deadline, and Ancelotti claims that the experienced stopper will get his chances in the first team this season. Casillas needs to ensure that his appearances are more frequent than recent times if he is to keep his place as Spain's first choice stopper.
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