Spain captain Iker Casillas said he feels responsible for "44 million people" as he and his team-mates prepare to enter the uncharted territory of a UEFA European Championship final.
The Real Madrid CF goalkeeper has claimed a veritable bounty of silverware since being crowned as a European champion with Spain Under-15s in 1995, including two UEFA Champions League titles, yet he insists he will break new ground when he leads La Furia Roja out to take on Germany in the UEFA EURO 2008™ final. "It's very different," he said. "Reaching a Champions League final with Real Madrid has no bearing on reaching this final. Many of us are used to playing against other important club teams in Europe but this tournament is every four years. It's very difficult to reach a final and that gives you an added responsibility; it makes you more nervous. Speaking for myself, I'm looking forward to it very much. But I feel responsible for my team-mates and 44 million people."
That is a sizeable burden to place on the shoulders of a man who, less we forget, is still only 27. He will become the first goalkeeper to captain a side to UEFA European Championship final victory if Spain prevail at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, and admits the thought has crossed his mind. "Everybody has five minutes of dreaming before they go to sleep which is free of charge, but the most important thing is that when the moment arrives we're aware that only one team can win and only one man can lift the cup," he said. "Hopefully Spain can be that team. We have the chance to break this horrible statistic for Spain. We haven't won an international title for a long time. We were very near 24 years ago but didn't manage to win."
'Break the mould'
In 1984 a mistake from Spain keeper Luis Arconada proved the decisive moment as Michel Platini's free-kick squirmed beneath him to put France ahead, Bruno Bellone's last-minute strike ending Spanish hopes of a first title since 1964. Arconada will be at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, yet Casillas is determined that there will be no repeat. "There are good and bad things about reaching a final; if you lose the journey is not worth it, but if you win it certainly is," he said. "Spanish players have come a long way and we can now break the mould as we're one step away from winning. We have everything it takes to put in a great performance." Having helped end a run of three penalty shoot-out losses – all on 22 June –in the quarter-finals and in doing so claim a first competitive victory in 88 years against Italy, Casillas more than any other seems capable of casting aside the shackles of history.
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