Spain struggling to find long-term replacement for Casillas


Soccer Football - World Cup Qualifiers Europe - Group B - Spain v Kosovo - Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla, Seville, Spain - March 31, 2021 Spain's Unai Simon in action REUTERS/Marcelo Del Pozo

MADRID (Reuters) - There was a time when Spain's starting lineup was goalkeeper Iker Casillas and 10 others.

The former Real Madrid player was a shoo-in to play for his country in a 16-year international career in which he featured 167 times and won two European Championships plus a World Cup.

However, since Casillas left the international scene in 2016, a number of keepers have tried - and failed - to fill the gloves vacated by 'Saint Iker'.

With only one friendly planned before this year's European Championship, Spain are at a crossroads with their goalkeeping options and need to make a decision on style or substance.

Incumbent Unai Simon of Athletic Bilbao has earned plaudits for his shot stopping but a lack of composure on the ball means he is ill-suited to Spain's possession-based style.

This was illustrated as Simon was comically dispossessed in midfield after racing from his area to sweep up a through ball during Spain's 3-1 victory over Kosovo on Wednesday, leading directly to the visitors' consolation goal.

Simon had usurped David de Gea - the likely viable alternative - as first choice after a number of error-strewn displays for his country by the Manchester United keeper culminated in a 1-0 defeat by Ukraine last October.

De Gea, who is far more comfortable in possession than Simon, has not played for Spain since - and his future at United looks uncertain following the emergence of Dean Henderson.

Any thoughts coach Luis Enrique has of putting him back in the side could be undermined by a lack of action at club level.

Kepa Arrizabalaga was earmarked as the long-term successor but his disastrous spell at Chelsea has seen his place in the Spain squad taken by Brighton & Hove Albion's Robert Sanchez.

Untried at international level and playing for a side struggling in the Premier League, it seems implausible that Sanchez could be first choice for the Euros starting in June.

However, the goalkeeping position is fast becoming a problem that Enrique needs to rectify if La Roja harbour hopes of glory.

(Reporting by Joseph Walker; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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