Just as Casillas is a survivor at Real Madrid, his 11-year longevity near the top of the goalkeeping ranks has separated him from many of his rivals for the accolade of best in the world. In SI's internal ballot for its XI for '11, Casillas dominated the voting for his position as much as any other player, including Lionel Messi. The confidence is deserved. From the moment Casillas saved two Italian penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, he has distanced himself from Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, the man who'd previously held the world's-best title but since then has been beset by injuries. Spain kept clean sheets during the entire knockout rounds of Euro '08 and World Cup '10 not least because Casillas made brilliant saves when challenged. (Who can forget his penalty-kick stop against Paraguay in a taut quarterfinal?) The only other goalkeeper who might challenge Casillas for top status is Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar, but the Dutchman's departure from the international game (and Casillas's monopoly on national-team trophies) gives the clear advantage to the Spaniard.
Perhaps a better question is why Casillas has so little competition in the world these days. Chelsea's Petr Cech hasn't been the same since his head injury in 2006. Arsenal's revolving door at goalkeeper has been a source of slapstick comedy. And Lyon's Hugo Lloris and Inter's Júlio César have taken steps backward after looking promising at the position. England's goalkeepers at the World Cup were abysmal; Robert Green's gaffe to allow a goal by the U.S. was strictly amateur hour. In fact, Spain is the new hotbed of elite goalkeepers, whose ranks include not only Casillas but also Barcelona's Víctor Valdés, Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Atlético Madrid's David de Gea, who at 20 is the best young goalkeeping prospect anywhere.
Unfortunately for de Gea, Spain's No. 1 spot in goal might not be available anytime soon. Casillas's dedicated training regimen could keep him at the top for another 10 years. "For some people motivation is difficult, but not for me," Casillas says. "I want to win more titles with Real Madrid and with the Spanish national team, defending our European championship and the World Cup."
If Casillas can maintain these heights for another decade, he wouldn't be just the world's top goalie. He'd be regarded as the greatest of all time.