"This is a unique opportunity and we must seize our destiny," said Spain captain Iker Casillas as he looked forward to renewing ties with Guus Hiddink and Russia.
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Iker Casillas is an intensely busy man at the moment, training ferociously hard, chatting over tactics with Luis Aragonés, signing hundreds of autographs and captaining Spain to their first UEFA European Championship semi-final for 24 years. But when the goalkeeper's head hits the pillow each night, his mind runs free.
"Everyone has that ten-minute spell when you're trying to get to sleep and your mind drifts – that's when I dream of lifting this trophy," he says quietly. "Your brain naturally turns to what lies ahead of you and dreaming is free. Having already made history, it's on all our minds that this is not enough and we want to grasp the silverware, but to do that we first have to beat Russia again." In Sunday's quarter-final against Italy, Casillas saved the third and fourth shoot-out penalties of his international career as Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale joined Kevin Kilbane and David Connolly as the Spaniard's victims. But defeating the Republic of Ireland on penalties at the 2002 FIFA World Cup ultimately meant nothing to Spain as they subsequently lost to Korea Republic – coached by a gentleman of world football named Guus Hiddink. Not only is the Dutchman in charge of Spain's next opponents but he also, coincidentally, gave Casillas his very first taste of a major international fixture.
"Hiddink and I were at Real Madrid [CF] at the same time but because I was so young I really only coincided with him twice," recalled the No1. "He actually took me to the [1998 European/South American Cup] final against [CR] Vasco de Gama as a substitute, when I was 17 and still in the youth squad." Moving on to Thursday's match, Casillas added: "It's a bit of a trap to be playing Hiddink's side again because I'd hate it if people thought this is an easy match simply because we won 4-1 [in the Group D encounter]. We've seen all of their games since then and Russia have impressed, especially against Holland." It is not only because Hiddink's South Korea emerged the victors last time he and Spain competed at penalties that Casillas wants a win within the regulation 90 minutes in Vienna. "Good though it was against Italy I always prefer to win on the pitch, during normal time," he said. "That way everyone, not least me, doesn't have to fray their nerves!"
Part of what 'San Iker', as the Madrid fans know him, admires about Russia is how much they remind him of Spain: "It's going to be a beautiful match because these two sides are both committed to attack, they share a football philosophy – Russia have impressed me." Although his driving goal is simply to lead Spain to glory next Sunday there is an impish part of him which regrets Spain are not now facing the Netherlands. "If you think how many Dutchmen we have at Madrid, the dressing-room banter would have been fantastic if we'd beaten them," he joked. But this is the man whom Aragonés classified as a "ten" in every department and the seriousness is quick to return: "The key for us is to manage the ball and control the first half. Both teams had to play extra time to qualify and if we keep possession you have to run less – I want to see our boys making the Russians chase possession. This is a unique opportunity for Spain and we must seize our destiny."