Spain wary of over-familiarity in Euro 2012 campaign
As they attempt to become the first team to successfully defend the European title, Spain are aware they have become a known quantity to international rivals.
By Halima Ali
On a balmy night in summer 2008, ‘San Iker’ Casillas ascended new heights of sainthood when he stopped two penalties against Italy in the European Championships. It was to prove a significant turning point for the Spanish national soccer side, which had previously gone out of three major tournaments in the quarter-finals on penalties – the World Cups of 1986 and 2002 and Euro ’96 – curiously on the very same date, June 22.
They of course went on to win the competition and two years later lift the World Cup in South Africa. The game and the tournament also signalled a more complete change of fortunes for La Roja, the national side that had always had an embarrassment of riches when it came to talented players, but too often failed to deliver.
On Sunday, the reigning European and World Champions will meet Italy again as they kick off their campaign to become the first side to successfully defend their title, in this year’s Ukraine- and Poland-hosted tournament. They begin the competition as overwhelming favourites, but as Casillas pointed out in recent days, something else has also changed: “The other countries already know how we play, they don’t need to study us. They are playing against the champions and they will be in top form to make the game their own.”
Another setback comes in the form of injuries. Despite the fact that 19 players of the 23-man squad called up made the trip to South Africa two years ago, they will have to defend their title without Carles Puyol and David Villa.
Villa – Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer and his team’s top-scorer for the past two major tournaments – has not played since breaking his leg in December, while the ever-reliable Puyol has recently undergone surgery to resolve a knee problem.
Those hoping to lead the front line include Sevilla’s Álvaro Negredo, who hit 13 goals in La Liga for Sevilla last season. He was selected to take his place along with Fernando Torres, who made it onto coach Vicente del Bosque’s list despite his erratic form at Chelsea and Fernando Llorente, who heads into the tournament off the back of a season in which he scored 29 goals in all competitions and helped guide Athletic Bilbao to the finals of both the UEFA Europa League and the Copa del Rey.
Unfortunately, recent weeks have seen the towering striker burn out as his Bilbao side crashed to defeat in both cup competitions and as Negredo lacks big game experience, it could be up to Torres – who until recently did not expect to be called up – to redeem himself on the international stage.
And, while full-backs Juanfran Torres and Jordi Alba will be making their first trip to a major international tournament, it is likely to be the veterans of the squad – Torres, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Casillas, as well as other key members of the 2010 side – who prove once again to be the core of the team.
Spain will face stiff competition this summer from a strong Germany side, a young but up-and-coming France team and the always talented Netherlands, but they will look to their relatively newfound experience in big tournaments to take home the trophy and augment their legend.
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Published: Jun 4 2012
Category: Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=6314
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Tags: Casillas, la roja, Liga, spain, Spain football, spain news, spain soccer, spanish football, Spanish soccer