Del Bosque hits back at Spain's critics
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP)
On Wednesday at the Donbass Arena, Spain will be just one victory away from becoming the first team since the West Germany team of the 1970s to reach three successive championship finals.
However, it has come under fire for not dazzling as it did when winning the trophy four years ago.
Del Bosque, who took over as coach after that victory and guided a more subdued Spain to its first World Cup triumph two years ago, described the contest with Portugal as ''the most important match of our lives.''
''Let's hope that we can continue this way going forward so that Spain stays among the elite in world football,'' Del Bosque said. ''We're talking about a great era when we have used the same style for years ... and which has yielded all of our achievements.''
Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ''park the bus,'' or take a completely defensive approach.
''I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it's a satisfaction for us to keep posession,'' Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. ''They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.''
Andres Iniesta also leapt to Spain's defense as it looks to eliminate its Iberian neighbor from a second straight major tournament and bid to become the first team to retain the European crown.
''Football is great for this reason, that people don't always like the same thing, don't agree on everything, that's the diversity of opinions,'' the Spanish midfielder said.
''When a team wants to attack and comes up against an opponent that sits back and tries to close the space and not try to create its own chances, that's not always the football you want to watch. It's easy to forget that only a few years ago this style is what changed the story of Spain.''
Cristiano Ronaldo presents Portugal's most dangerous scoring threat, and the Real Madrid forward is clearly well-known to Spain's players.
He has scored three goals in Portugal's last two games and is one goal from setting his country's all-time European Championship scoring record, at seven. He has never found the net against Spain in two previous competitive fixtures.
''We'll intend to throw him off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,'' Del Bosque said of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. ''The idea will be the same.''
Spain downplayed thoughts that it may be more fatigued than its opponents, who have had an extra 48 hours to recover from their quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic.
There are also eight Real Madrid players spread between the teams, plus seven Barcelona players in Spain's squad. However, Spain's players did not expect club friendships and rivalries to spill over into a national team game with a spot in the July 1 final in Kiev, Ukraine at stake.