Defender Sergio Ramos believes Spain can be proud of their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign even if they lose Sunday's final against Italy. Vicente del Bosque's side are just one game away from becoming the first country to win three consecutive major championships.
It is a milestone Ramos admits the Spanish players are aware of but, even if they come up short in Kiev, he believes they have already made history. "We are aware of what we are playing for on Sunday," he said.
"It is something that as of today no team has ever achieved. It requires many years of work and sacrifice. No matter what happens we have already made history. This hasn't finished though and the icing on the cake would be to return and win the EUROs. Maybe there are some that don't value it but for the work we have done I think the whole country ought to be proud. Even if we lose we can return with our heads held high."
Andrea Pirlo has been the key to Italy's unexpected run to the final as the 33-year-old has produced a number of sublime performances, including in the 1-1 draw against Spain earlier in the tournament, but Ramos is also wary of the Azzurri's strikeforce. "Pirlo is one of Italy's references, he makes the difference and takes control," he said.
"He is like Xavi in our team but they are two fantastic footballers. Although we also can't concentrate on one player because Italy create danger with the forwards they have too. The collective is what has got them here. We ought to be worried about them but not obsessed. We need to maintain our philosophy of play which is the key to our success."
Ramos followed Pirlo's example by successfully chipping his spot-kick down the middle of the goal as Spain squeezed past Portugal 4-2 on penalties in the semi-final. The confidence shown by the Real Madrid defender is even more remarkable given he missed a crucial penalty in the UEFA Champions League semi-final shootout against Bayern Munich.
However, Ramos insists the criticism he received after blazing the ball over that night did not alter his mind when it came to a shootout on Wednesday night. "The penalty is at the end of the day an anecdote and we shouldn't concentrate on this but on the progression to the final," he said.
"Although, with time, yes it will be something I will remember. I didn't do it to prove anything to anyone. It was more personal, when I had to I assumed the responsibility, despite what happened in the Champions League with Real Madrid.
"They had said many things which, as a professional, hurt my pride but I am clear that if anything led me to be a footballer it is my personality. These things happen in football. It's never affected me personally, nor professionally. I want to keep growing and taking responsibility."
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas, meanwhile, has highlighted the importance of Andres Iniesta if Spain are to retain their European crown. Iniesta has been the champions' standout performer throughout the tournament and Fabregas is hoping he can unlock the Italian defence once more on Sunday.
"Andres improves in every game. It has been a difficult season for him with injuries but he has arrived at the Euros in an extraordinary moment," he said. "At the point of attack he has this creativity that very few people have. He is a player we need to take authority in the game. On an attacking level he is our reference."
Fabregas admitted to willing the ball to make history as he converted the final penalty against Portugal and he is now looking to go one step further in the final. "We have already made history, we will make more if we win," he said. "We will give everything until the end so that we can have a great holiday, rest for the year to come and, above all, celebrate the victory with our families and all the people waiting for us in Spain."