On the verge of creating history, the Spanish national team now has one last hurdle to overcome. With the entire country sure to be transfixed on Sunday’s UEFA EURO 2012 final with Italy, La Furia Roja have their sights set on becoming the first-ever team to win three major international tournaments in the space of four years, an achievement that would represent a fitting legacy for a captivating generation of footballers.
David Silva, one of the side’s key men, spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the culmination of the high-profile continental event, and Spain’s chances of writing a new page in the record books. Attack-minded team-mate Alvaro Negredo, who was a surprising inclusion in Vicente del Bosque’s starting XI for the semi-final encounter with Portugal, also shared his thoughts on the big match.
Spain-Italy, a much-anticipated clash between two of Europe’s traditional powerhouses, is a fixture that evokes recent memories. The two teams faced each other in the quarter-finals of EURO 2008, and also locked horns during the group stage of this year’s tournament.
Both of those matches ended in draws, and Silva knows that Spain will likely need to improve on those performances to take home the trophy.
“The first match with Italy here was tricky, but this one is not quite the same, mainly because it’s a case of win or bust. Ahead of the group-phase match, both teams knew that a defeat wouldn’t eliminate us. Of course, now the situation is very different, just as the game will be,” said Silva, the speedy Spanish midfielder who has become a fan favourite at Manchester City.
There is a small statistical snag in Spain’s plans: the only time the Iberians have ever beaten Italy in 90 minutes of an international competition was back in the Olympic Football Tournament at Antwerp 1920. As far as Silva is concerned, Sunday’s match in Kiev offers the perfect occasion to bring the undesired 92-year sequence to an end.
“There’s no doubt that Italy are extremely tough opponents, but when you reach a final, that’s to be expected. We’ve played Portugal and France, two top-class teams, and we managed to overcome them both. The objective has obviously not changed, and our confidence is as high as it’s ever been,” he said.
Although results have been solid, Spain have struggled to find stability up front, an area left with a gaping hole in it after David Villa’s pre-tournament injury. Despite the tweaks that Del Bosque has made to his line-up, Silva’s name has remained on the team sheet. He is well placed to discuss what enhancements are required for the team to reach the heights of the 2008 and 2010 sides.
“We’ve been working flat out to reach the final. To have achieved that goal means that we’ve clearly been playing at a high level, but if we want to be favourably compared with past teams, we need to win; that much is obvious. If we do it, it’ll be historic, but we still have to improve on a few things,” explained the former Valencia star.
Unlike Silva, Alvaro Negredo has only made one appearance so far, in the momentous and closely contested semi-final clash with neighbours Portugal. The Sevilla forward’s involvement was a major pre-match talking point, as Del Bosque’s ongoing tactical modifications in the final third of the pitch continued.
The striker has since explained that his selection was the result of a carefully considered game-plan. “It took me by surprise as well, but the idea was for me to put in a bit of graft, the kind of work that’s not necessarily that noticeable. I was asked to do the dirty work, battling with their defenders and wearing them down, to clear the way for players capable of destabilising their back line,” Negredo said.
With the final now just around the corner, it has been suggested that the additional day’s rest from which the Spaniards will benefit could well prove crucial to the outcome of the match, but this is not an argument that the Madrid-born front man has much time for.
“We’re all used to playing on Sundays and Wednesdays. But this is the modern game, and breaks during tournaments are shorter now. You can’t really use that as an excuse. While we will have had an extra day’s rest, that fact is unlikely to affect the result,” said Negredo, who is participating in his first major international competition with Spain.
While he accepts that Italy have left the catenaccio era behind them, he believes that they still play to the strengths that have traditionally made them an extremely difficult team to beat.
“Italy a more attacking team than in the past, and they like to move the ball around a bit. But they continue to play in a tough and robust manner. Playing against them can be a little exasperating, because they don’t leave you any gaps. We’ll have to be very patient,” said the 26-year-old Spaniard.
As to whether or not he will again be asked to start the match, Negredo does not rule out the idea, but like any good team player, he is ready to follow whatever the coach’s instructions happen to be, so that La Roja can fulfill their over-riding objective: winning EURO 2012.
“I hope that I’ll be able to help out. It’ll be a completely different game, and we’ll need to keep putting the work in. If we do things right, the result will take care of itself, no matter who’s actually out on the pitch,” he concluded confidently.