It's always great to see players regain form after a difficult period. Against Cruz Azul, not only did Iker Casillas make a great penalty save but the Madrid keeper also made an equally important first-half stop at a crucial moment in a tense one-on-one situation.
Winning the World Club Cup is an achievement yet to be fulfilled by the current Madrid squad and their determination to rectify this was highlighted in Morocco as they set about getting the result that would take Madrid into the final. With confidence starting at the back, Iker Casillas once again provided the inspiration with a string of important saves and turned in another commanding performance. Although Iker's performance against Cruz Azul will be remembered by many for the penalty save from Torrado, his second penalty save in a week; there was more to his performance than that. This was Iker looking back to his old self. The long throws-outs were there once again to team mates alert for a quick counter-attack.
Gone were the sliced clearance kicks and hesitant goal-mouth positioning. Back were the reflex saves, including those with the feet which he so excels at, and the commanding presence was there once again for all to see. The ball was there to be held, not punched, and in one-on-one situations the performance was exemplified.
Back in form and dominating his penalty area, Casillas snatched any hopes Cruz Azul had of scoring with a perfect block at the feet of an opponent through on goal in the first half and looked to be loving every minute of the game. It could be argued that this, not the penalty save, was the turning point of the game as the Mexican champions were foiled again. Goalkeepers are judged by their ability to react quickly to situations and Iker's strengths are in his reactions and in his ability to close down opponents quickly, forcing them to commit themselves to making an early attempt at goal. Cruz Azul were just not going to get past Iker on the night; either from the penalty spot or in one-on-one situations. Habitually adjusting his gloves and organising the defence before facing another Mexican corner kick, the determined concentration could be seen in his face and the body language said it all: Bring it on.
This was a performance which highlighted the change in Casillas since returning to the team as first choice goalkeeper under Ancelloti. Sidelined in the Mourinho years firstly through injury and then by the Portugese himself, Iker went through a tough and difficult time. Boosted by the friendship and encouragement of Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, Casillas kept battling away behind the scenes in training, working to regain that sharpness that was lost through making only rare and sporadic appearances in the first team goal.
These were dark days for Iker. His confidence had taken a huge blow, and Mourinho did little to boost it, publically stating that replacement Diego Lopez (brought in as a result of Casillas' wrist injury) would be the first choice goalkeeper. Things appeared to start badly under Ancelotti as well, but as his old self-belief and esteem grew, Iker began to regain his form. Gradually the true Iker emerged once again.
Now the confidence is back to match the reflex saves, the commanding presence and the familiar grin. "I wasn't shit before" he said a few weeks ago in an interview reported in Marca referring to the Mourinho days, "and I'm not amazing now". Indeed, the difference in attitude is there for all to see. Although virtually banned from talking to the press under Mourinho, Casillas appeared relaxed and emphatic about his performances of late. Nobody will be more pleased than those who stuck by him through that difficult period and believed in his return to form.