A history of Iker Casillas vs. Gianluigi Buffon through the years
It is rare that two players from different countries, with very different backgrounds and personalities, come to be so closely identified as peers. But the fates of goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon have been so intertwined over the last two decades that it can be hard to talk about one without mentioning the other.
Juventus' Buffon (39) and Porto's Casillas (35) have 13 league titles, 42 major trophies and 334 international appearances between them. On Tuesday night, they meet for the 18th (and what could be final) time as their clubs look to progress from the Champions League round of 16.
The course of their past meetings reads like a history of club and international football in the 21st Century.
Buffon made his senior debut for Parma aged 17 back in 1995, while Casillas was named on the Real Madrid bench aged 16 in 1997, and broke into the first-team two years later. By then the Spaniard had fixed on the Italian as the model to follow.
"At 14, I began to enjoy his way of playing, his way of being," Casillas told UEFA.com recently. "Then we grew up together, with very similar careers, and have won almost everything. We have a healthy rivalry, and share a lot of affection."
It took a while for the pair to meet competitively, but by 2003 when they faced off for Juve and Madrid respectively, they were the world's top two goalkeepers. Buffon had the better of that clash, crucially saving a Luis Figo penalty late in their Champions League semifinal second leg.
The Serie A side also won their 2005 round-of-16 UCL meeting and Buffon asserted his authority as the best goalkeeper in the business at the World Cup in 2006, when his saves were vital as Italy won the tournament. Casillas and Spain crashed out to France in the first knockout stage.
But then came Spain's breakthrough at international level at Euro 2008 -- with the key game being the quarterfinal against Buffon's Italy when "San Iker" saved two penalties in the shootout after neither keeper was beaten over the 120 minutes.
Spain raced to 2010 World Cup glory, while defending champions Italy crashed out in the groups without winning a game. Four years later the pair faced off again at Euro 2012. By that stage Buffon was still Italy's No. 1 but not at his best and the balance of power shifted further. Their group stage meeting finished 1-1, but Spain swept to a 4-0 victory in their rematch in the final, as Casillas kept five straight clean sheets on the way to lifting a third straight international trophy.
A year later, he also had the last laugh at the 2013 Confederations Cup as Spain triumphed 7-6 over Italy on penalties in the semifinals, but eventually fell to champions Brazil.
Things were soon to swing around again however, as Casillas' confidence ebbed following a row with Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho when he was dropped for Diego Lopez. This led Buffon to come to his rival's defence ahead of a Champions League group game at the Bernabeu in October 2013.
"I admire Iker a lot," he said. "I respect him much more as a man because of this. Iker has always shown himself to be a great champion, and in these negative situations great champions can, due to their character, find this competitive rage when they return to play."
Casillas won the Champions League that season but following a disastrous World Cup 2014, the Spain keeper lost his international place to David De Gea. But Buffon did not fare much better at the tournament either as Italy also crashed out in the group stages. Though the next few years saw the Italian go from strength to strength.
Buffon was key to Juventus' run to the 2015 Champions League final -- knocking out Casillas' Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate on the way -- while the veteran also set a new Serie A record the following season as he went 929 minutes without conceding a goal.
By the time the pair met again at Euro 2016, Casillas could only watch from the bench as the 38-year-old Buffon defied the years to make key saves as Italy won their Euro 2016 round-of-16 tie 2-0.
After so many years, it would have been a shame for their rivalry to end on that note. Luckily for football fans around the world, a move to Porto reinvigorated Casillas and this season's Champions League round-of-16 draw has offered another chance for two of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time to meet again.
At this stage of their careers, both are quite comfortable with the attention that has brought.
Casillas still has the upper hand in international clashes (W5, D3, L1) but Juve's 2-0 win in the first leg, after which the two veterans shared a meaningful hug, means that their club record is balanced (W3, D2, L3).
Juve are big favourites to win again on Tuesday, and give Buffon the likely final say in their personal battle. Pundits might differ over who which was the better keeper over the years, but the two men themselves seem content with their shared professional and personal respect.
- UCL semifinal first leg. May 6, 2003 -- Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus
- UCL semifinal second leg. May 14, 2003 -- Juventus 3-1 Real Madrid
- International friendly. April 28, 2004 -- Italy 1-1 Spain
- UCL round of 16 first leg. Feb. 22, 2005 -- Real Madrid 1-0 Juventus
- UCL round of 16 second leg. March 9, 2005 -- Juventus 2-0 Real Madrid
- International friendly. March 26, 2008 -- Spain 1-0 Italy
- European Championship quarterfinal. June 22, 2008 -- Italy 0-0 Spain (Spain win 4-2 on pens)
- International friendly. Aug. 10, 2011 -- Italy 2-1 Spain
- European Championship group game. June 10, 2012 -- Spain 1-1 Italy
- European Championship final. July 1, 2012 -- Spain 4-0 Italy
- Confederations Cup. June 27, 2013 -- Spain 0-0 Italy (Spain win 7-6 on pens)
- UCL group stage. Oct. 23, 2013 -- Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus
- UCL group stage. Nov. 5, 2013 -- Juventus 2-2 Real Madrid
- International friendly. March 5, 2014 -- Spain 1-0 Italy
- UCL semifinal first leg. May 5, 2015 -- Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid
- UCL semifinal second leg. May 13, 2015 -- Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus
- UCL round of 16 first leg. Feb. 22, 2017 - Porto 0-2 Juventus
Information from Michael Wade was used in this report.