Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Time Spain Can Finally Reign; Inaki's Winning Mentality Can Rub off on under Achievers

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Time Spain Can Finally Reign; Inaki's Winning Mentality Can Rub off on under Achievers

Article excerpt

Instant expert

European Championship record

Qualified 1960, 64, 68, 76, 80, 84, 88, 96, 2000

Best achievement Winners, 1964

THOUSANDS of Spanish fans will make the short trip across the border to Portugal in the hope that their side's whole can, for once, be greater than the sum of their individual parts. The perennial underachievers of world football, they rarely fail to disappoint followers when it comes to the finals of major tournaments. Nevertheless, there are some sound reasons for optimism this time.

For a start, Spain have a much better record in the European Championships than the World Cup. They actually won the European Nations Cup in 1964, when the competition was played under a different format, and reached the final of Euro 84 only to lose out to a Michel Platini-inspired France.

Also in their favour is the strength of their domestic game.

Barcelona and Real Madrid may have disappointed in Europe last season but Valencia won the UEFA Cup and Deportivo La Coruna made the European Cup semi-finals. Both clubs are well represented in coach Inaki Saez's squad.

Spain's performances in qualifying were mixed, with a thumping 3-0 away win against Norway in the playoffs masking embarrassing results against Greece and Northern Ireland which saw them miss out on an automatic place. An early Steffen Iversen strike in the first leg against Norway sparked fears of missing out on their neighbours' summer party, but Spain produced an impressive fightback to cruise through.

For a side that often struggle to turn possession into goals, Spain have been handed a tough start to the championships. Russia thrive on the counterattack while the local derby against hosts Portugal will be a high-pressure occasion.

On the plus side, Saez has an abundance of top-class players to choose from.

Alongside Raul, he has the choice of Fernando Torres, Fernando Morientes and Albert Luque in attack. Monaco's Morientes is the only member of the squad who plies his trade outside Spain, which is again testament to the strength in depth of the top Primera Liga clubs. Saez can even afford to head to Portugal without Arsenal's new star, Jose Antonio Reyes. …

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