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Graham Hunter - archive

Barcelona-based Graham Hunter has been privileged enough to be in Spain throughout its golden era at both club and international level.
Graham Hunter
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Graham Hunter

Casillas and Courtois have vital roles

The Madrid clubs' semi-final destiny, with regard to meeting in Lisbon, could hinge on their two very different but similarly excellent goalkeepers, says Graham Hunter.
 
 
Published: Friday 25 April 2014, 13.22CET

Casillas and Courtois have vital roles

The Madrid clubs' semi-final destiny, with regard to meeting in Lisbon, could hinge on their two very different but similarly excellent goalkeepers, says Graham Hunter.

After the first two semi-final matches, with just one goal scored and three of the teams employing what were perceived to be counterattacking tactics, all the talk has been about possession, efficacy and philosophies of football.

There have been jokes about parking buses and Franz Beckenbauer has once again chided Josep Guardiola about 'sterile' possession – but nobody has been talking about the goalkeepers. Strange given that some would argue, and I would be one of them, that these UEFA Champions League semi-finals boast the top three goalkeepers in the world.

Whether or not its essential, or even desirable, to put them in order, any list I would provide would have the goalkeepers of the two senior Madrid clubs – Iker Casillas and Thibaut Courtois – plus Manuel Neuer in the top three.

That the semi-final quartet will now be completed by Mark Schwarzer is just one more of the terrific twists this tournament perpetually throws up – history made by the oldest player ever to compete in the UEFA Champions League.

©Getty Images

Thibaut Courtois in action on Tuesday

But with a view to what awaits in the coming week my eye falls on the Madrileño and the Belgian. There was pretty fevered speculation in the build-up to the match at the Estadio Vicente Calderón about whether Courtois would play, so much so that it is strange that so little focus was place on the fact that, well, he had so little to do.

José Mourinho's side only had three efforts on target on Tuesday. It was a night of work which bore little or no resemblance to the last time Courtois faced a Mourinho team – Atlético's Copa del Rey final win last May. That night he kept a rampant Real Madrid CF at bay with a combination of assured houskeeping and some quite remarkable saves in order that Los Colchoneros could overturn a 1-0 deficit and win 2-1.

Mourinho has been publicly critical of his strikers this season, but Stamford Bridge retains that fortress atmosphere. Chelsea have not lost in west London in their 12 UEFA semi-finals – winning eight games and drawing four – finding the net 21 times and only once, against eventual winners Liverpool FC in 2005, failing to score. Courtois may well have to produce a performance similar to that of a year ago in his last final if he and his team-mates are to qualify for Lisbon.

Then there is Casillas: San Iker. At the end of that thrilling semi-final first leg against FC Bayern München he led his team-mates to the centre circle to acknowledge the ferocity of their fans' support. In theory it is Casillas's last game this season at the Santiago Bernabéu given that Diego López has been playing every Liga match. Naturally, there is speculation as to whether the Madrid and Spain captain will settle for another season of only playing in the club's cup ties.

His remedy to this relegation has been to train and play with absolute excellence. Winner of the Copa del Rey earlier this month and now on the verge of his third UEFA Champions League final, he has made 20 appearances this term, prevailing in 17 of them, drawing twice and losing once. He has only conceded ten goals.

Again, it has perhaps been under-reported that Bayern not only had more possession but more shots on goal and efforts on target than Madrid did in the first leg. San Iker's late save from Mario Götze may be a sign of what is to come in the second leg. The Madrid clubs' destiny, with regard to meeting in Lisbon, could hinge on their two very different but similarly excellent goalkeepers.

http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/blogs/blog=ucl_blog_spain/postid=2096045.html#keepers+dreams

Last updated: 28/04/14 10.44CET
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