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Jun 20, 2014

World Cup shaping Ancelotti's squad

Iker Casillas faces an uncertain future for both Spain and Real Madrid.
Iker Casillas faces an uncertain future for both Spain and Real Madrid.

The World Cup is usually a stage for players to catch the eyes of potential new clubs with impressive performances in front of the millions watching, but for Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, it could be a platform to make some big decisions ahead of the new domestic season.

Los Merengues have 12 players in Brazil, and although some have shined, the competition could have a detrimental impact on the club careers of others.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas will return to the Spanish capital for preseason training wondering what the future will have in store for him after enduring a nightmare tournament in South America. Although he was far from being the only subpar performer for La Roja, the 33-year-old's errors stood out. Spain conceded five against a jet-heeled Netherlands in their opener, and Casillas did not deflect the blame after the match, saying, "The first thing I have to do is offer a mea culpa; this is the worst performance of my career."

It may have been the worst performance of his career, but it came after more errors on the biggest club stage that almost cost Madrid their long-awaited La Decima. Casillas was at fault when Diego Godin headed Atletico Madrid into the lead in the Champions League final last month. Sergio Ramos's late header, and subsequent extra-time goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo, saved his bacon. While that error may have been forgiven, more in Brazil will set alarm bells ringing over whether his time at the top has come to an end.

- Lowe: Spain's future is now
- Cox: Spain undone by their own revolution

The shot stopper said the crucial clash with Chile offered the chance for him and his Spanish teammates to "react" after the disappointment against the Dutch, but there was no such redemption. A 2-0 defeat sent the defending champions crashing out of the competition at the very first hurdle, and once the dust has settles, changes will be afoot. At 33, Casillas could be one of Spain's golden eras to have played in his final World Cup.

It may be a sad ending to what has been a sublime six years for Casillas and Spain. The Mostoles-born player went into the tournament looking to lift a fourth consecutive major international trophy after the all-conquering Spain side had won the last World Cup and the past two European Championships. Those triumphs will live long in the memory, but Casillas will not want the ride to end this way.

Nor will he want his club career to end in the same manner, and if there's one thing he can take from Spain's disappointment, it is the emotion that he won't want to suffer a similar downbeat departure to life with Los Blancos.

Casillas is known as "San Iker" among Madridistas, but that affection, although lifelong after the trophy-winning service he's given the club, is waning. Uproar from all corners greeted Jose Mourinho's dropping of Casillas in late 2012, but now there acceptance among some fans that the goalkeeper is past his best and no longer among the elite in the world. He will not want that affection to drop much lower so exiting the club after lifting the long-awaited La Decima may be a wise idea.

Diego Lopez has displaced Iker Casillas in Real Madrid's league campaign.
Diego Lopez has displaced Iker Casillas in Real Madrid's league campaign.

Casillas, and Ancelotti, have some big decisions to make this summer.

Los Blancos' club captain was already playing second fiddle to Diego Lopez in La Liga with his outings reserved for cup competitions, and although saying he wants to remain in the Spanish capital it may also be best for the club, as well as the player, to see one of their favourite sons say a difficult and emotional goodbye.

Although Lopez has performed well since arriving back at the club under Mourinho, the No.1 spot is one Madrid need to address, and it may be better addressed without the pressure of Casillas being around. A fresh start may be best for all.

It's not only Casillas and club-mates Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso who've endured a tough time in Brazil, Pepe has also disappointed for Portugal and left Ancelotti with another selection headache. He had been the Italian's defender of choice alongside Sergio Ramos for much of last season, but all that could change given his selfish sending-off for his country against Germany and the fact the talented Raphael Varane is waiting in the wings for a long run in the first-team.

Pepe The Prat
Pepe's hot-headed nature gave Paulo Bento fits and saw him off against Germany.

The 31-year-old's red card for an altercation with Thomas Muller was stupid, and it was not the first time he's been involved in such an incident. Ancelotti prides his teams on strong discipline and although Pepe looked to have improved that side of his game somewhat last season, his outburst against the Germans could have a negative impact at club level next season.

If some reports are to believed, Ancelotti was ready to drop Ramos, and not Pepe, for the return of talented young Frenchman Varane last summer. The Spanish international's discipline had been worse than Pepe's on paper, and the Italian did not want that risk running in the heart of his defence. As it was, Varane suffered an injury that cost him his place in the side, Ramos enjoyed arguably his best season for Madrid and the rest, as they say, is history.

Twelve months on and it could be Pepe, and not Ramos, who is for the chop with Varane seemingly back to full fitness. Numerous Premier League clubs have been linked with both the Frenchman and Pepe this summer, but with Varane set to enjoy a better World Cup than his club-mate, Ancelotti could make him a surefire starter for Madrid next season alongside Ramos.

The likes of Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Marcelo have arrived in Brazil on the crest of a wave following their Champions League-winning success in Lisbon last month, but some of their club-mates have not. Disappointment for players, including Casillas and Pepe, this summer may not only be limited to South America, with their performances sure to impact on the way Ancelotti designs his Madrid team for next season.