Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
THE OPTIMIST (Elena Moya)
Spain’s chances of beating Italy and reaching the Euro 2008 semi-finals are better than ever.
‘This time is different’ is the line that is repeated tournament after tournament, just before the team inevitably falls in the quarter-finals. But on this occasion it really is different, and here’s why.
1) Spain’s inferiority complex - based on four centuries of Inquisition, a fallen empire and a dictatorship that only finished thirty years ago - is evaporating. A winning mentality has been fostered by players like Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
2) They have traditionally been unlucky in tournaments, losing in penalty shootouts a few times including in England in 1996 against the hosts. This time, late match-winning goals by David Villa and Daniel Guiza have shown Spain can also be lucky.
3) Being lucky has given Spanish players confidence that last-minute turnarounds can actually happen in their favour. Spain’s tragic history – in football and in politics – is not inevitable. That’s what the players are now beginning to believe.
When Spain’s coach Luis Aragones decided to leave Real Madrid striker Raul out of his squad for Euro 2008 some thought he would live to regret his decision.
However, Valencia striker David Villa has stolen the headlines at the tournament after a cooly taken hat-trick in Spain’s opening 4-1 victory over Group D rivals Russia and an excellent stoppage-time goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sweden.
When the Spain squad for Euro 2008 was announced all the talk in the Madrid media was about the absence of “El siete de España” — Raul. Luis Aragones, they said, would regret leaving out the former national team captain and all-time top scorer.
But David Villa has made light of the supposed burden of inheriting the number seven shirt and laid the debate to rest in the space of four days with his hat-trick against Russia and superb stoppage time winner against Sweden.