Puyol: We are here to win
Few players are as committed as Carles Puyol. A lynchpin of the Spain defence, the Barcelona captain gives his all whenever he takes to the field and inspires his team-mates to do the same. As he prepares for Spain's debut at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, the all-action defender spoke to FIFA.com about his country's chances and the secret of their recent success.
Eyes on the prize
Although they only arrived in South Africa a few days ago, Puyol and his colleagues already feel at home. "The welcome we've had has been great. The people are really friendly here," says the smiling Barça skipper. "The dance they put on for us when we arrived in Rustenburg was incredible and the lad who did it had this amazing elasticity. It was spectacular I can tell you."
For the first time in their history Spain are favourites going into a major competition. Yet far from feeling the pressure, Vicente del Bosque's charges are happy to accept such exalted status and are anxious to show why they are the team to beat when they take on New Zealand on Sunday.
"We know that any side can spring a surprise on you," Puyol explained. "Obviously Spain are favourites but we can't afford to be over-confident. That's how you lose games like this. We've just had a video session on New Zealand and the coaches have done their job. I'm sure we'll be fully prepared for the game."
"We're very excited about the competition," he continues, underlining just how seriously Spain are taking the FIFA Confederations Cup. "We know there's going to be a lot of people watching us and we don't want to let them down. Aside from that we want to keep our unbeaten run going (32 matches) and with the World Cup only a year away we're very motivated about meeting some of the top teams in the world here. Winning is the only thing on our minds."
Fighting the fatigue
It has been a highly productive if lengthy season for Puyol. With Barcelona winning everything in sight, he has played a lot of games and collected a lot of trophies. Has the campaign taken a physical toll? "Yes it has. There's no doubt about that. But winning is such a good feeling that you draw strength from it. It's much tougher when you have a season that lasts just as long and you end up winning nothing. And next year's going to be exactly the same, which means we'll have to try and keep the standards up for both club and country."
First of all, though, there is the small matter of South Africa 2009 to contend with, and while Puyol is reluctant to predict a dream final, a showdown with Brazil would suit him fine. "That would be a real challenge," he says. "They are one of the best teams in the world with some fantastic players who can make all the difference. I've never been lucky enough to play against them and it would be great if we got the chance this time."
An added incentive for success is the fact that Spain are within touching distance of breaking the world record for the longest unbeaten run by a national team, currently held by Brazil, who went 35 games without loss during the mid-1990s. "It is something we think about," he admits. "We are aware of everything we've been achieving and we think a lot about it. We definitely want to keep this unbeaten run going and for a long time."
So what is the key to Spain's success? "The atmosphere is fantastic," replies Puyol without a moment's hesitation. "That was one of the vital factors at EURO 2008 and things haven't changed since then. One or two players are missing and some new faces have come in but they've all got the same desire and commitment, which is important."
That special camaraderie has remained strong despite the fierce rivalries that exist between Spain's leading clubs. But with Barcelona having swept all before them last season, Puyol and his fellow culés in the Spain team have been unable to resist a few jokes at the expense of the Real Madrid contingent. "We've been making a few comments, of course," he confides. "We haven't been overdoing it, though, because sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. That's why you always have to respect your team-mates and your opponents."
The question is, are Puyol and Barcelona ready for the challenge that the new-look Madrid are sure to pose next term? "They'll be up there for sure, whether they sign new players or not. Madrid are a great team with great players, but we'll be ready."
First of all for the Barcelona hero, however, comes the task of getting his hands on another trophy in Johannesburg in two weeks' time. "It would definitely be a big step forward for us. We are up for this competition and we want to do well. Winning EURO 2008 has given us a tremendous amount of confidence and we're determined to put on a good show here."