Casillas, guardian of Spanish fort

Casillas, guardian of Spanish fort

Casillas, guardian of Spanish fort

Spain beat Croatia 1-0 to reach the last eight of Euro 2012 as Group ‘C’ winners on Monday but it could have been a very different story but for the brilliance of their goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas.

Casillas pulled off a stunning reflex stop to keep out an Ivan Rakitic header in the 59th minute at the PGE Arena in Gdansk before substitute Jesus Navas snatched an 88th-minute winner for the world and European champions.

Croatia battled impressively to keep the Spaniards at bay and had they scored and held on to their lead they would have advanced to the quarterfinals as group winners and Spain would have been out.

Casillas has earned the nickname ‘Saint Iker’ for his match-saving performances for his country and will always be remembered for denying Arjen Robben in the 2010 World Cup final.

“We knew they weren’t going to just sit back and we were expecting them to create the odd chance,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told a news conference. “They had an excellent opportunity but that is why Iker is there and he dealt with it very well,” he added.

Del Bosque said he accepted that people did not always agree with his tactical decisions but said he had no reason to change the way Spain play.

“Perhaps expectations are so high now that people will never be satisfied,” the 61-year-old said. “We have gone from poor to rich so quickly that maybe people don't value what they have,” he added.

“We appear to be in a period of extremism, of either good or bad, and there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Football will decide and put us where we deserve to be.” If Del Bosque was his usual gruff self, his Croatian counterpart Slaven Bilic was far more effusive in his praise of Casillas at his news conference.

“What can we say about him? He is probably one of the best players of the past 10 years,” said the 43-year-old, who is stepping down to take over at Lokomotiv Moscow after the tournament.

“He is just the leader for the teamand he was a hero for them tonight,” he added. “He always knows how to react and he is so calm. Rakitic had a great clear chance and did everything well but it's not easy when you are facing Casillas.”