Spain's goalkeeper Iker Casillas makes a save against Portugal's Joao Moutinho during penalty shoot-out of the Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match against Portugal at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 27, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
The Final of the Euro Cup 2012 features the battle of two European titans. However, neither set of titans stand taller than the men manning the nets.
Spain's Iker Casillas and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon have both established their legacies as two of the greatest keepers of all time. Both have won numerous accolades on the club level and both have a World Cup championship to their names. However, Casillas has one Euro Championship to Buffon's zero.
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Is this the year Buffon ties him?
Casillas is sound technically and has established himself as one of the great keepers not only for his technical prowess, but his concentration and ability to make the key saves when called on.
Doesn't sound like anything ground breaking but Casillas is a unique keeper in that his actual activity game in and game out is minimal compared to most keepers. Due to his team's ability to possess the ball for over 60 percent of the match and the lack of chances other opponents generate, Casillas generally does not see much action.
In fact, in this tournament Spain has never allowed any opponent more than 10 chances at the net and no opponent aside from Italy has ever had more than five attempts hit the target.
However, there have been a few huge saves that Casillas has been forced to make in this tournament and he has done so with tremendous confidence. Against Croatia, a header was primed for hitting the net and eliminating Spain from the tournament. Casillas dove across and made a heroic save. Against Portugal Casillas stopped the first penalty in the shootout moments after his own teammate Xabi Alonso had failed. After his failure, Casillas took off the pressure by making the save; a clutch play indicative of his strong leadership.
In the 2010 World Cup championship, Casillas made some equally clutch saves when the team most needed. He stopped a penalty against Paraguay that would have put Spain on the brink of elimination in the Quarter finals. In the final game, he stopped Dutch superstar Arjen Robben on a clear cut breakaway.
After giving up one goal against Italy in the opening match of the tournament, Casillas has been perfect and has the best numbers of the tournament thus far. With a win on Sunday, Casillas will win his 100th match for the Spanish National Team. In doing so he would be the first player ever to achieve the milestone.
Buffon has been instrumental in Italy's run. Unlike Casillas, he generally sees more opportunities headed his way and has to make saves on a more consistent basis. Buffon has given up more goals against than Casillas (three), but one was on a penalty kick, and one was against Spain in the opening match.
Buffon was stellar against Germany and made a huge save in the penalty shootout against England. He made a few good plays against Spain in the opening match, most noticeably stealing the ball from Fernando Torres on a breakaway.
Buffon was also a lifesaver in his only cup victory, making a game saving stop against France's Zinedine Zidane on a header. Like Casillas, he only surrendered two goals in his World Cup run; one on an own goal and another on a penalty shot in the Final match.
Both keepers are clutch for their respective teams when they need them to be. Casillas has been a winner more recently, but Buffon's losing record over the last few years has more to do with his team and less to do with him. Both guys relish the limelight and will be poised to bring performances that are the closest soccer will see to a goalkeeper's duel.
How do Spain and Italy's Defense Match up? Read More HERE.
How do Spain and Italy's Midfield Match Up? Read More HERE.
How do Spain and Italy's Strikers Match Up? Read More HERE.
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