Spain promises to deliver with crisis at home
Spain defender Gerard Pique has a clear message for those at home experiencing turbulent times during the economic crisis: We won't let you down.
Spanish football has excelled in recent years while the economy is in recession and the country is on the brink of needing an international bailout.
With little good news off the field, Spain's players made it clear they were up to the task of defending its European Championship title, starting with Sunday's Group C opener against Italy.
''We know what the situation is in our country and all we ask is that you have faith in us, we won't let you down,'' Pique said on Friday from the team's training base in northern Poland.
Spanish banks need billions of euros in bailout funds, unemployment is at a eurozone high of 24 percent and the economy is stretched to breaking point. Winning a record-equaling third European title would provide a nice distraction from the news that awakens the country's 47 million people every day.
''We're conscious that there are a lot of expectations being put on us and we want to give all of Spain some joy because they need some joy, we know it,'' striker Fernando Llorente said. ''We know that would be best.''
Both Pique and Llorente were confident Spain could follow up its 2010 World Cup win with a second straight continental title by sticking to its quick-touch, possession style that has seen it win a record-equaling 14 straight competitive games. Spain has won 37 of its last 40 competitive games, losing just twice.
''It would be great if all teams sat back and let us dominate the ball, that would work out wonderfully for us,'' said Llorente, who is dueling with Fernando Torres for the starting striker's spot. ''We know how to play that way very well. It would just be a question of time, because in the end we would end up winning the game.''
The Azzurri are nearly certain to provide such a blueprint, which has worked at a club level for Chelsea and Inter Milan in recent years against Barcelona, which employs similar tactics.
''From my experience I prefer to dominate games. When you dominate and have 70 percent possession and they only look to strike on a counter or two, that reduces your options of losing, and you've got a much better chance of winning the championship,'' Pique said. ''But I'm sure some team will come out and try to take us on. We're ready for everything.''
Pique admitted he was still adjusting to his new partnership with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, as Carles Puyol is injured. But the 25-year-old centerback, playing in his first European Championship, believes Spain has all the defensive tools to succeed after conceding just two goals in South Africa two years ago.
''Allowing no goals will be vital, in every game. We showed it already at the World Cup, we didn't let in any goals in the knockout phase,'' said Pique, who believed the arrival of Jordi Alba to replace Joan Capdevila at left back would prove a master stroke.
''He's an incredible player. He just flies in training, he's like a bullet,'' Pique said of the Valencia player, who is reportedly set to become his teammate at Barcelona. ''He knows how to attack and defend. He's a player who is here to stay.''
Italy's football - like it's economy - is not in great shape either as the team is enveloped in a match-fixing scandal that has already seen one player from the squad sent home.
That means nothing to the Spanish team.
''I'm convinced they will be a very tough rival that will qualify for the next phase, that they will fight for the title,'' Pique said. ''Because when Italy arrives in such conditions, in these circumstances, is when they are strongest, and most dangerous.''
Ireland and Croatia are also in Group C.