Stars in Europe, subs with Spain at Euro 2012

Stars in Europe’s top leagues, they’re just substitutes with the

world champions.

It’s not easy playing for Spain.

Spain is bidding to win a third straight major title at Euro

2012, and the team faces France on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is expected to start most of the

regulars, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas among

them. That again would leave Javi Martinez, Juan Mata and Fernando

Llorente on the bench waiting for their opportunity.

And when the opportunity arrives, it’s treasured.

”Every one of us knows our role and when our chance comes we

just try to be prepared,” utility player Javi Martinez said

Thursday from Spain’s training base in the north of Poland. ”Those

more than 20 minutes I played against Ireland were a gift I was

able to take advantage of.”

Martinez, who is reportedly being watched by Bayern Munich and

Barcelona because he can play either center back or in midfield,

played 28 minutes in the defending champions’ 4-0 drubbing of the

Irish. In contrast to the little playing time he gets for Spain,

the 23-year-old Martinez made 50 appearances this season to help

club team Athletic Bilbao reach two cup finals, including in the

Europa League

Mata, a regular starter for Champions League and FA Cup champion

Chelsea, hasn’t played a single minute at Euro 2012 through three

games, while Malaga forward Santi Cazorla – a regular substitute

during Spain’s Euro 2008 title-winning run – has 13 minutes under

his belt.

The biggest surprise has been Llorente’s absence, with striker

David Villa missing to injury.

Llorente’s 29 goals for Athletic were more than the combined

number scored this past season by fellow strikers Fernando Torres

and Alvaro Negredo – who have both featured at Euro 2012.

”We haven’t used everybody and we need to accept that it can’t

be any other way,” Del Bosque said. ”I like everyone on this

team, Llorente and (Pepe) Reina are no different, but we have to

take decisions and use those we think provide the best

solution.”

Del Bosque’s overlooking of Llorente remains somewhat of a

mystery, because the 27-year-old striker is training normally

without any apparent injury. Fatigue could be a problem, but that

hasn’t affected the likes of players with similarly long club

seasons like Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos.

”(Llorente) is in good spirits. We all want to play considering

the football players we are and Fernando more than most,” Martinez

said of his Athletic teammate. ”He keeps training as best he can

to be in the best shape possible.”

The unused players on Spain’s bench in Poland and Ukraine have

won a combined 49 titles in their careers.

”Ever since I joined the national team I’ve always said that I

know what my role is here,” said Victor Valdez, who has won 19

trophies as Barcelona’s starting goalkeeper, but finds himself

behind Spain’s most capped player, Iker Casillas. ”I’ve always

been professional and I owe that to my teammates and a coach who

trusts in me and that’s my role for the good of the team.”

Paul Logothetis can be reached at:

www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP