Mata's Spain role at Euro 2012: Torres cheerleader

June 7, 2012

For Chelsea, Juan Mata was a central figure in the team's victories in the Champions League and FA Cup this season.

For Spain, his main role appears to be firing up Fernando Torres.

Mata may be one of Europe's most creative talents but the 24-year-old playmaker finds himself in the thick of football's most star-studded midfield, competing with Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Silva for a place in Spain's European Championship lineup.

Torres, however, could start up front in Sunday's Group C opener against Italy after turning a terrible run of form around with a late-season surge.


Mata, who was enjoying a career year, also worked as a cheerleader to Torres by offering words of encouragement during what was likely the Spain striker's most difficult season.

''Fernando had a very difficult season but the team had a fantastic close to the season and he deserves to be here. I have no doubt that at the European Championship Fernando will be one of the most important pieces for our team and will certainly score important goals,'' Mata said Thursday.

''If he recovered his level it's down to the confidence he has in himself. I was there during those moments when it wasn't going well and I always tried to tell him that he was a very important player to Chelsea and the national team.''

Torres seems replete with confidence after making coach Vicente del Bosque's squad following a late season surge. Although he didn't start in the Champions League final, Torres scored the semifinal goal against Barcelona that secured its passage to Munich.

With David Villa - Spain's all-time leading scorer - out, Torres has the opportunity to re-establish himself in Spain's attack after a poor World Cup. Two years earlier in the Euro 2008 final, Torres scored the winning goal against Germany.

''I learned a lot from him this season, not just at a football level but also on a personal one, with how he believes in himself,'' said Mata, who has to deal with his own hurdles every time he links up with the national team.

Not only do Xavi, Iniesta and Silva populate Spain's midfield, but there are also the likes of Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Santi Cazorla to contend with.

Mata adopted a defensive mindset to help Chelsea win its first European Cup while helping it to a fifth domestic cup in just his first season with the Blues. He's ready to adapt his game to suit Spain, too.

''With Chelsea I've played a lot, I've been an important piece, and here I just have to keep working to make it into the starting 11,'' Mata said. ''It's normal that those spots are already taken since there are players who have been here longer, who have won that `status.' I just try to train well and to be at my best for whenever Del Bosque figures it's my moment to play.''

Mata could also be called upon late in games when Spain is looking for a late goal.

''Something this team has is a second line capable of scoring,'' the World Cup winner said. ''The players in midfield have scored a lot of goals already and can do so again.''

Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez could also help in the scoring department, as he offers extra pace on the flanks alongside Jesus Navas when Spain surely needing to break down stubborn defenses that have adapted to the team's possession game.

''I'll do whatever the coach asks me to,'' Pedro said.

Spain will also play Ireland and Croatia at Euro 2012.