Kiev: Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas has revealed he has always aimed to emulate Italy counterpart Gianluigi Buffon.
Both shot-stoppers will captain their national sides in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday, hoping to further add to their numerous honours at club and international level.
And, despite the 31-year-old having matched the Italian in the eyes of many observers, Casillas admits he still looks up to the Juventus star.
"Buffon has my admiration and maximum respect," he told Onda Madrid. "He is an exceptional goalkeeper and at 34 is still amongst the best.
"For goalkeepers that are a little younger than him he has been a reference, he has driven us and we wanted to be like him. We have a good relationship and every time we meet it is a pleasure."
The Spaniard also insisted that the Azzurri will be a tough nut to crack in Kiev, after they knocked out Joachim Low`s much-vaunted Germany in the semi-finals.
"At the end we will return to face the team we opened the tournament against," he added.
"The opponent didn`t matter to me because Germany, like Italy, appeared very good, each one with their own style of football.
"Italy is a dangerous rival that will make it difficult for us."
Casillas went on to explain why he felt that Spain were not receiving the plaudits they enjoyed at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup this time round.
He continued: "In every moment we have said that it was not going to be the same as the European Championships four years ago.
"We are the reference at a world level and we hope it lasts for a long time, but this is a cycle, another team will arrive and dominate the rest.
"We are the team to beat and they always talk about us. The important thing is we are in the final and we are going to try and defend our title from four years ago.
"A small, but the most important, step remains. For the team and the players we are in a wonderful era of Spanish football.
"We are in the final, it has not been as easy as we expected. After four years at the top of world football it is normal that the other teams face us in a different manner."