Casillas defends El Classico absentees

Updated: 09 August 2011 22:43 IST

Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has sprung to his international team-mates' defence over squad withdrawals ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Italy in Bari.

Casillas defends El Classico absentees

Rome:

Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has sprung to his international team-mates' defence over squad withdrawals ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Italy in Bari.

Cup-holders Real play champions Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup at the Bernabeu on Sunday and an important player from each team has already pulled out of the Italy clash.

Real's full-back Sergio Ramos was first to go, followed closely by Barca's Xavi, leading some to speculate that the two sides' players were more interested in El Classico at the weekend than the international friendly in midweek.

"Sunday's is an important match but those who are absent have genuine injuries, although it's inevitable to err on the side of caution in such cases," said Casillas.

"However (Wednesday) night's game is not just a friendly, it's against an important and prestigious rival.

"We're world champions and we've got everything to lose and little to gain but even so, my head is here and afterwards I'll think about the Spanish Supercup on Sunday between Barcelona and Real Madrid."

Italy could line up with either of errant but talented forwards Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli against the world and European champions.

Cassano is a former Real team-mate of Casillas.

"He's got talent but unfortunately every so often he loses his head. But he's a phenomenon," said the goalkeeper.

As for Balotelli, Casillas knows only what his club coach Jose Mourinho, formerly Balotelli's boss at Inter Milan, has told him. "He's told me several anecdotes about him (Balotelli) but those will stay between us."

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque believes Italy deserve respect despite being in a period of reconstruction.

"Italy are a team that are being rejuvenated. They've lost (Fabio) Cannavaro, (Gianluca) Zambrotta and (Fabio) Grosso while we're continuing more or less with the same team," he said.

"But Italy are still the team that has won the World Cup four times.

"I like (Italy coach Cesare) Prandelli, Italy are doing well with him, they have almost already qualified for the European Championships.

"We've seen their videos, he's changed their way of playing a little but we have the advantage that we know each other better."

One player who possibly doesn't fit into that category is young Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara.

He played only a bit-part role for the Catalan giants last season but a man-of-the-match performance in Spain's under-21 European Championship final victory over Switzerland has earnt him a senior call-up.

Alcantara, son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, was born in Italy when his father played in Serie A. Although he mostly grew up in Spain he has chosen to represent his adopted homeland.

"I never thought about playing for Italy because I grew up in Spain and that's where I was trained as a footballer," he said.

"But a part of my heart is in Brazil due to my family origins."

Alcantara said he just hopes to get a chance to play and he may well make his debut as Del Bosque seems to be a big fan.

"We have many excellent midfielders but he's got talent and he uses it for the good of the team," said Del Bosque.

"He can create, he can defend and he can be dangerous in front of goal."

Topics : Football Mario Balotelli Antonio Cassano Iker Casillas Fernandez Real Madrid Italy Spain
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