Satiating the notoriously demanding Ferrari overlords, justifying the highest salary in Formula One and coping under the coercing umbrella that is Alonsomania were boxes Fernando Alonso set out to tick as 2011 began. Yet El Nano insisted he did not feel encumbered. Rafael Nadal could identify with his fellow Spaniard. The seemingly indomitable tennis genius professed in January: “I don't feel under pressure. I don't feel as though I'm the world number one; I just feel as though I'm one of many competitors in every tournament I enter.”
They were, perhaps, immune to the pressure bug. They were, more likely, delivering contemplated responses in the hope of minimising the pressure, which is something one of their compatriots has been asked about recently.
The Spain U-20s touched down in Colombia burdened with enhancing what is a majestic meridian in their country's footballing tale. Sergio Canales arrived being championed as the man to make that happen. Julen Lopetegiu required inspiration for his stand-out charge at 6:59pm on Wednesday. Canales had missed La Roja's opener, a 4-1 defeat of Costa Rica, through injury, and the coach had subscribed to the old formula that you don't change a winning team. But now he had to. His side were at deadlock with Ecuador. Little over half and hour remained.
Yes, I was feeling the pressure. It's my first World Cup and I had butterflies. I was really pleased to score.
When the assistant referee elevated the substitution board, and the No10 appeared, an enthusiastic roar went up from the Spain supporters who yearned a goal, and the neutrals, who were eager to witness whether the Canales hype wagon was justifiable.
You'd assume he would have felt the pressure weighing on his 20-year-old shoulders. You'd be right. And Canales is one Spaniard to whom robotic responses are alien. He was, by contrast, refreshingly candid when he spoke to FIFA.com.
“Yes, I was feeling the pressure,” he admitted. “It's my first World Cup and I had butterflies. I missed the first game too, so that put a little more pressure on me. Plus, Spain are always expected to win and when I came on, it was 0-0.”
It wasn't goalless for long in Manizales. Seven minutes, to be precise, was all it took Canales to arrest equilibrium. And while the simple stroking home of a cut-back was child's play to a young adult who rocketed into the limelight by posting breathtaking strikes for Racing Santander and the Spanish youth teams, Canales was more than happy to find the net in atypical fashion.
“I was really pleased to score,” he said. “It was one of the easiest goals I've scored [in my career], but it was one of the most important. It was important for Spain because it gave us the lead, and it was important for me because it relieved some of the pressure. I felt relaxed once I'd scored.”
Taker turned maker five minutes from time, with Canales threading a ball behind the back of the Ecuador defence which Alvaro Vasquez ran on to and slid past Ecuador keeper John Jaramillo to seal a 2-0 victory. Spain had played 180 minutes, seized six points and a place in the Round of 16. Canales had played 31 minutes, scored and registered an assist.
Spain are effectively assured top spot in Group C, given that their goal difference is seven better than that of Costa Rica, the only team that can mathematically outsprint them. Canales nevertheless wants them to go through with an unblemished record.
“We want to beat Australia and finish the group with a 100 per cent record. And then we want to go on and win the tournament. It's wide open, I don't consider any team the favourites. Of course we're going to take each match at a time, but we came here to become champions and to continue Spanish football's period of success.”
A conquest in Colombia would certainly boost Spanish sport. Alonso, in his maiden campaign in the Ferrari cockpit last year, finished second on 252 points, just four shy of Sebastian Vettel. Just 11 rounds into this campaign he is already 89 points adrift of the German sensation. Nadal conquered three of the four Grand Slams in 2010 – he was forced to retire injured in the quarter-finals of the Australia Open - while his status as the world's number one appeared bulletproof. This year he has lost all five of his encounters with Novak Djokovic, surrendering top spot on the ranking to the Serbian in the process.
If Canales's first 31 minutes on Colombian soil prove emblematic of what's to come, maybe his celebrity compatriots will take heed of the following message: admitting to butterflies is not necessarily a bad thing.