Criticized for loss, Spain defends goalie Casillas
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s coach and players have defended goalkeeper Iker Casillas and their tiki-taka passing style after their first loss in qualifiers since 2006.
Spain will look to rebound from Thursday’s 2-1 defeat at Slovakia that ended its run of 36 qualifiers without a loss when it visits Luxembourg on Sunday as it tries to get back on track in qualifying for the 2016 European Championship.
“Now we have to be more united than ever,” midfielder Cesc Fabregas said.
Casillas added to his poor performances at the World Cup with another goalkeeping gaffe on Slovakia’s first goal.
Considered until recently one of the world’s best goalies, Casillas made blunders in Spain’s 5-1 loss to the Netherlands to open its ill-fated World Cup defense in Brazil. He followed that by a sub-par showing in its 2-0 loss to Chile that eliminated it from the tournament in just two games.
Now his inability to block a free kick struck hard but directly at him by Slovakia’s Juraj Kucka has awakened concerns that the best days may be behind Real Madrid’s 15-season veteran.
Sports daily Marca summed it up with Saturday’s headline, “Casillas’ Agony.” It described his concession on Kucka’s strike his “worst mistake as a Spain player.”
But defender Gerard Pique said on Saturday that Casillas was “beyond debate,” and downplayed the loss at Zilina.
″(Casillas) is the best in the world at his position and he has showed that for many years,” Pique said. “Having him as a teammate and as our captain is wonderful. We have to think that qualifying is a long process and that he is more than capable.”
Coach Vicente Del Bosque said he planned to make changes in his starting 11 for Luxembourg before the loss at Slovakia. He did not say whether Casillas would start.
Spain is the two-time defending European champion, but its flop at the World Cup led to the retirement from international duty of leading scorer David Villa and midfield duo Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso.
Pique, however, still sees its ball-control style as the key to success.
“The loss the other day was a setback, but there is a long way to go,” he said. “It would be a mistake to chance, because the profile of our players are those that control and pass the ball well.
“We are missing important players who left the team, and coach is looking for their replacements.”
One of those new pieces is Diego Costa, who has yet to score in six appearances for Spain.
Del Bosque asked for patience with the striker, who is having a splendid start at Chelsea after helping Atletico Madrid win the Spanish league last season.
“If we hadn’t called him up we would regret it,” Del Bosque said. “We are going to try and get the best out of him. If he plays well for his club, why wouldn’t he do so with us?”