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Soccer-Real's Casillas plans to relish final after 12-year wait

Reuters

By Mike Collett

LISBON, May 23 (Reuters) - Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has won the World Cup and European Championship with Spain plus the Champions League, La Liga and King's Cup for his club but the older he gets the less he takes the glory for granted.

The 33-year-old, who hopes to win a third Champions League by leading Real to a 10th European Cup success when they face Atletico Madrid on Saturday, told a packed news conference he was relishing their first appearance in the final since 2002.

Casillas said it had been painful for him to watch them fail every year since their last success 12 years ago.

He played in the 2000 final four days after turning 19 when Real beat Valencia 3-0 in Paris and was a second-half substitute for the injured Cesar Dominquez five days before his 21st birthday when they beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in Glasgow in 2002.

"I think in those days everyone expected us to be in the final and win it all the time," he said.

"But you don't realise how difficult it is to get to a final and then another final, it is very hard."

Although the early days of the European Cup were Real's golden era with five successive wins from 1956 to 1960, they also won the Champions League three times in five seasons between 1998 and 2002, the last time they reached the final.

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"When you are 19 or 20 years old you don't realise perhaps you might not be in a final again for a long time.

"It is painful when you watch other teams get to the final and you have stopped in the semi-final. So to get to a final again now, adds more value to it.

"I have had the chance of playing in several finals with my national team and Real Madrid and as you play more and grow older you realise the privilege you have of giving so much joy to millions of people by winning and becoming champions."

As he looks across the pitch at the Stadium of Light on Saturday he will see the distant figure of counterpart Thibaut Courtois, the 22-year-old Belgium international on loan to Atletico from Chelsea who has been tipped for a great future.

Courtois has had an outstanding season helping Atletico win the Spanish League title and reach the Champions League final and Casillas knows just how good a prospect he is.

"I have said it before but his performances at his age have been fantastic. He is a fantastic goalkeeper who has made an excellent progression and he is no longer a promise he is a reality," he said.

"Along with David De Gea (of Manchester United and Spain), I think they will be the most successful goalkeepers in the future. He is a great player and a great person, but let's hope that tomorrow he is not as good as he usually is." (Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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