Back in January, the career of Diego Lopez seemed
to be on the decline.
The tall goalkeeper, aged 31, was second choice at midtable Sevilla to the ageless Andres Palop, and apparently destined for at least five more months on the subs' bench.
But on Tuesday Lopez will be Real Madrid's keeper away to Galatasaray in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Indeed, he is one of the reasons why the whites are now one of the favourites to pick up the coveted trophy.
"These last three months have been incredible," Lopez said last week. "Nobody could have imagined what was going to happen to me. But these things can happen in football."
On January 23, Real and Spain keeper Iker Casillas broke a finger in his left hand in a cup match at Valencia, and was told by doctors he would be out for at least two months.
Coach Jose Mourinho insisted the club sign another keeper before the end of the January transfer window, so on January 25 they paid Sevilla 3.5 million euros (4.55 million dollars) for Lopez.
Ironically, Lopez had been Casilla's understudy at Real from 2005 to 2007, before leaving for Villarreal out of frustration. But he had created a good impression at the Estadio Bernabeu, and so Real had few doubts as to whom they would go for in January.
It has already proved to be a clever signing, because Lopez has taken over from Casillas with aplomb, confidence and no-nonsense self-assuredness.
He was outstanding in Real's defeat of Manchester United in the round of 16, and impressive in the whites' defeat of Barcelona in the Spanish cup semi-finals.
Little wonder, then, that Mourinho - whop has never got along well with Casillas - is determined to stand by Lopez and keep Casillas on the bench.
Lopez was his usual calm, taciturn, under-stated self just before leaving for Istanbul Sunday, refusing to accept the tie was already settled despite Real's 3-0 win in the first leg.
"The tie is not settled because we know how football can be," he said. "Also, it will be a difficult stadium to play in because of the noise and passion of their fans.
"The 3-0 win is a good result for us but I think we will have to score over there, to take the heat out of the match. We should not think too much about the 3-0 but instead try to score at least once."
Lopez declined to say whether he would continue between the sticks or whether Casillas would return, rather looking only at the game ahead.
"Our dream is to reach the final, but we still have a long way to go. It is a difficult competition and we still have a lot of work to do, but I really believe we can go all the way," he said.
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