Keylor Navas’ long-awaited debut as starter for Spanish power Real Madrid came without any offensive fireworks, as any goalkeeper would probably prefer. Real Madrid’s 0-0 tie with La Liga rival Sporting Gijón marked the passing of the torch to Navas, who was largely stuck on the bench last year behind the club’s most decorated goalie, Iker Casillas.
Despite an onslaught of rumors linking Navas to Manchester United in a potential swap for Spanish-born David De Gea, the Costa Rican had a successful showing in Sunday’s season opener to keep Madrid to a scoreless tie. In preseason play leading up to Sunday’s game, Navas made some incredible saves in friendlies against Europe’s best teams, including this one from a 2-1 victory last week over Turkey’s Galatasaray.
Now donning the No. 1 jersey after taking over for Casillas, the only close call came when Gijón’s Carlos Carmona Bonet got behind Madrid’s Marcelo and nearly put a header home past Navas. On the other end of the pitch, Madrid’s star-studded attack featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and James Rodríguez couldn’t find the net against a stubborn Gijón team.
For Navas and Madrid, the worry has never been on-field performance. But instead, as one noted Spanish football journalist pointed out recently, Navas’ heritage could be a decisive factor when choices are made regarding the Costa Rican’s future at the Bernabéu, as Real Madrid historically favors to sign Spanish players.
The season opener at El Molinón stadium in Gijón, Spain was also the debut for Real Madrid’s new head coach Rafa Benítez. At a Saturday press conference, the 55-year-old coach was asked if Navas would be shipped away in favor of De Gea in goal and responded with a firm backing for Navas.
“When I talk with Keylor and practice with him, we’re talking of an intelligent pro who I love,” said Benítez. “I don’t speak of players that don’t belong to Real Madrid. But Keylor is practicing very well, is playing very well, and is totally positive.”