Ramos: Third title would be icing on Spain's cake


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The Independent Football

The fact that Spain are vying for an unprecedented third major championship in a row is down to their hard work and sacrifices according to their central defender Sergio Ramos.

The success of the Spanish has stemmed from a solid back four which has been breached just once in five games. Ramos, partnering Gerard Piqué at the heart of defence, has been unflappable throughout, reading the game imperiously – a quality so important to a team so insistent on building from the back. He admitted that the players are acutely aware of what beating Italy would mean.

"It [three consecutive trophies] is something that as of today no team has ever achieved," Ramos said yesterday. "It requires many years of work and sacrifice. This hasn't finished, though, and the icing on the cake would be to return home as European champions again. No matter what happens we have already made history."

Ramos conceded that the Spanish ball-players must take hold of midfield. To do that, they need to stop Andrea Pirlo, possibly the most impressive performer of the competition so far. Against Germany he was afforded too much time on the ball and ran the game, but the Spanish mentality of hunting in packs to turn over possession will mean Pirlo is in for a tougher evening.

"Pirlo makes the difference and takes control," Ramos said. "He is like Xavi in our team: they are two fantastic footballers but we can't concentrate on one player because Italy create danger with the forwards they have, too."

Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque refuses to accept they are favourites to win the European Championship. Del Bosque believes the Azzurri's enviable tournament record means it is anyone's to win.

"Italy have won the World Cup four times so we cannot speak of favourites. It is a final and it is 50-50," he said.

The teams drew 1-1 in their opening Euro 2012 match, and Spain had the chance to eliminate Italy if they had drawn their final group game 2-2 with Croatia. But Del Bosque dismissed any suggestions the idea had been in his mind. Spain won that game 1-0, and Italy's 2-0 win over Ireland put them through.

Del Bosque added that the 1-1 draw would have no bearing on tomorrow's final. "That we played each other in the group stages doesn't condition the game at all," he said.

Del Bosque, highlighted the importance of the link between Pirlo and Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City striker scored twice to sink Germany and many regard his relationship with the Italian playmaker crucial if they are to beat Spain.

But Ramos said: "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."

The philosophy of retaining possession, incessantly probing and wearing teams out, makes Spain wondrous to watch and extremely productive. Cesc Fabregas thinks their linchpin, Andres Iniesta, has to continue to impress himself on the game, which is likely to be won and lost in areas between midfield and attack.

"Andres improves in every game. 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," Fabregas said. "It has been a difficult season for him with injuries but he has arrived at the Euros in an extraordinary moment."

There has been a wave of criticism over the way Spain play – some going as far as to say they are boring to watch – but that does not faze players or management. "We have to accept everyone's opinion. Some things we have done quite well, like our play in defence," Del Bosque said. "We haven't always been able to play the aesthetic style that everyone wants, but in every moment we have had control of the games."