Vicente Del Bosque tries to keep Spain's doubters at bay at Euro 2012

 

Gdansk

All around Spain's training base there are banners reminding Vicente del Bosque's team that history does not win tournaments. Instead, the slogans state that "concentration", "talent" and even "humility" will be the key ingredients if Spain are to win a third major championship in a row.

Doubt does not win much and, for the first time, doubt has started to seep into the Spanish camp. For the 53 minutes between Antonio Cassano putting Italy ahead against Ireland on Monday night and Jesus Navas thumping home the winner from a yard out, the world and European champions were a goal away from elimination – and Croatia had more than one chance to score it.

Polls conducted as the Spanish fans streamed down the steps of the PGE Arena in Gdansk for the last time, bound for the less-familiar streets of Donetsk, were clear. They wanted Del Bosque to stop the experiment of playing without a recognised striker, which he had employed for most of the opening fixture against Italy and for the final half-hour against Croatia.

"Everybody feels they can be a coach but I would ask them to relax," said Andres Iniesta, whose role in breaking the deadlock in Gdansk was pivotal. "All teams have difficult moments and Spain is no exception.

"We were more tired than in previous matches. There were moments of quality in our game but there were also moments of doubt because we knew that one goal from Croatia could eliminate us."

Like Iniesta's club, Barcelona, Spain suffer from the perception that every game has to feature goals created by a series of dazzling passes, finished off with geometric precision. Sometimes, you yearn for them to lump it up to Fernando Llorente, Athletic Bilbao's big No 9, and see if he is as effective as he was against Manchester United.

Like Arsène Wenger, who was watching from the stands in Gdansk, Del Bosque is determined to defend the purity of his football. "We should have faith in the style of play that has taken us this far," said the Spain manager yesterday. "We have plenty of resources to deal with teams who concentrate only on defending. If we had a bad match, Croatia had a worse one.

"People expect too much. A few years ago Spain were not well rated but now everyone expects everything. David Silva and Iniesta need to move into spaces and against Croatia the spaces were very small and, although some of the passes went astray, they did so by millimetres. People may lose faith in us but the most important thing is that we have faith in ourselves."

Nevertheless, as he walked through the corridors of the PGE Arena and into club management, Slaven Bilic believed he should have been preparing for a quarter-final in Donetsk.

"People are going crazy about Spain but the world moves so fast that we forget about the detail," said the now former manager of Croatia. "It is going to be very hard for them to win this tournament. Italy have shown that and so have we.

"When they don't play with a striker, they keep the ball more and they come at you from the flanks – and then your defenders just have to cover their own zone. When they play a striker, you have to defend your box and the wings. Against us, it was mainly [their goalkeeper] Iker Casillas who saved them. They looked vulnerable."

Certainly, Spain seem vulnerable to strangulation. Italy and Croatia both flooded their midfield and there was a photo doing the rounds of the Spanish camp that showed Iniesta, alone, surrounded by five members of the Italian team. Iniesta was likened to the Japanese cartoon footballer, Oliver Atom. "Perhaps not Oliver Atom," Iniesta smiled softly. "This will be hard and if, God willing, we get to the 2014 World Cup, it will be even harder.

"This team has a perception that it has to win every game 3-0. I'd actually prefer to be in this situation than in previous tournaments when we were packing our bags after one bad game. But the fact is that, when you are champions, it is very difficult to raise your game to another level."

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate