Diego Lopez: Iker Casillas’s replacement


View photo


Real Madrid's goalkeeper Diego Lopez (AFP)

With Iker Casillas out injured, Diego Lopez is the man charged with stopping Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in tonight's Champions League blockbuster between Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Name: Diego Lopez Rodriguez
Date of birth: 3 November 1981 (31 years old)
Place of birth: Paradela, Spain
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 1.96m
Position: Goalkeeper
Current club: Real Madrid
Former clubs: Lugo, Real Madrid C, Alcorcón (loan), Real Madrid B, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla
International caps: 1

While number one Casillas, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, is a household name across the continent, much less is known about Lopez outside Spain, even though he is a Spanish international and has played against United, and their local rivals Manchester City before.

So who exactly is the player facing one of the biggest nights of his career?

At the age of 31, Lopez is far from inexperienced in between the sticks, and he counts Spanish heavyweights Villarreal and Sevilla among his former clubs.

Indeed, it was while playing for Villarreal that he first came up against United, in the group stages of the Champions League in the 2008-09 season, when he helped hold the three-times European champions to goalless draws at El Madrigal and Old Trafford.

He made 172 appearances for Villarreal after having signed from Real Madrid, the club where he had effectively started his career. He worked his way through the ranks in Madrid, starting off with the C team before graduating to the B team, with a loan spell at Alcoron sandwiched in between.

Having helped the reserves into the Segunda Division, Lopez was himself promoted to the first-team squad and served as an understudy for Casillas for the next two seasons. During that time he made just three appearances and was eventually sold to Villarreal in 2007.

It was in the province of Castellon that his career really took off and, after winning the number one jersey from Uruguayan Sebastian Viera, he became a fixture in the Yellow Submarine's starting line-up. He even managed to save a Lionel Messi spot kick during a Copa del Rey match in 2008 - one of nine penalty saves he has made throughout his career.

A spell with Sevilla followed, where he and Andres Palop vied for a first XI place but just a year and a half into a five-year deal, Real Madrid came knocking at his door following the thumb injury sustained last month by Casillas.

Real coach Jose Mourinho targeted Lopez because he did not want to expose Casillas's original back-up Antonio Adan to the pressures of the Champions League.

A deal to bring back the keeper to Madrid was swiftly finalised during the January transfer window and Lopez made his debut in a 1-0 defeat to Grenada earlier this month, Cristiano Ronaldo the only man able to beat him with an own-goal.

He fared far better on his next outing, a 4-0 win over his previous employers Sevilla at the weekend, although the biggest test of his career is surely to come at the Bernabeu tonight and then at Old Trafford two weeks later.

"He is one of those goalkeepers who you would say is not outstanding at anything, but he does not have any weaknesses and, for a goalkeeper, that is a real strength," Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said of his fellow Spaniard.

"He is very agile and good in the air. His distribution is incredible, at the same level as Pepe Reina and everything else is good, or even very good. He is good in one-on-ones, he covers good angles, he is patient and he doesn’t commit himself. He controls the tempo well.

"Had he been born anywhere other than Spain, he would have been playing in major tournaments.”

See how Lopez fares tonight, with live text commentary at 7:45pm and pre-match build-up from 6:45pm (UK times).

View comments (5)