World and European champions Spain need to add to their flesh-and-blood rivals on the pitch at Euro 2012 an extra psychological hurdle: the weight of their own crown.
One thing caught the eye of coach Vicente del Bosque when the team qualified for the quarterfinals on Monday with a late 1-0 win over Croatia in Gdansk: Spanish players hardly celebrated their berth in the next round.
There were no hugs, or smiles, or runs to cheer with the fans. Quite the opposite: the players walked to the changing rooms with their eyes on the ground, looking more like they had lost the game.
“Expectations are very high. We’ve gone from poor to rich very fast and we don’t know how to value what we have,” Del Bosque told a news conference on Tuesday.
The coach demanded better memory from players and critics alike, so they may bear in mind where Spain are coming from and where they are going.
Just four years ago, Spain had rather little to boast about when it came to football. Now they have won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, and aspire to become the first team to win three big trophies in a row.
Beyond that, Spain are a team that has made history for its beautiful play and its talented footballers.
They have come to be regarded as a side comparable to the Brazil of old, and a less-than-brilliant qualification such as Monday’s is not something worth celebrating.
For Del Bosque, this is a sign of a bad football memory. “We have to transmit optimism to the players,” he said. Del Bosque was probably referring to the fans and the media as much as to his own technical staff. The players complain about how hard critics are banging on them, as Gerard Pique did in recent days, and they note how hard it is to play teams that shut themselves up in defence and by now know the secrets of Spain’s play.
“Winning again is more difficult,” midfielder Andres Iniesta said.
“Everything is very tough, the rival plays too. Everything is getting harder and in two years’ time it will be tougher still. This is the challenge, to improve ourselves. And that’s what we’re here for.”
At the current Euro event, Spain’s rivals have learnt how to make trouble for them, and their status as a clear favourite to win the trophy is under fire.
“Today we came close, we could have stopped them,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said on Monday. “There are many teams who may not be as classy, but they have more rhythm, more hunger and are more aggressive.”
Keywords: Euro 2012