One of the little secrets of Spain's trophy success over the last four years is achieving that state of grace known in the game as the tournament mentality.
Outside the professional ranks many people simply think that to be young, talented and well paid is sufficient to make a footballer totally focused, motivated and operating at high performance. That is not always so.
Boredom, frustration, loneliness, lack of form – these can be like rust on the bottom of a car if a player does not have the correct mentality. However Spain, both under Luis Aragonés in 2008 and two years ago when Vicente del Bosque's side won the FIFA World Cup, seem to have found both a buoyant spirit and a way of living that keeps morale high and minds completely on the job.
Víctor Valdés saw that trick at first hand in South Africa and intends, if he is not called into action as Iker Casillas's deputy, to do his bit to maintain La Roja's elite as a happy camp. "Since I have been part of the national side, I have noticed the importance of areas where the players can relax and play different games, such as cards, pool or table tennis, and share moments together," he told UEFA.com. "All that creates a good atmosphere that you need to win matches.
"For a team to be successful, it's vital that there is a good atmosphere within the squad, that every single player provides what they can for the good of the national side. However, at the end of the day, there must be a good atmosphere for that to take place."
If there are two other teams who, almost without fail, have had such a good tournament mentality that they can turn up and be ultra competitive irrespective of form and injuries they are Germany and Spain's Group C rivals on Sunday – Italy.
The likely starting right-back for the reigning champions, Álvaro Arbeloa, cannot help but admire the perpetually robust nature of the Italian footballing attitude. "Italy can be struggling, perhaps not controlling the game, looking like they are not doing anything, but they are able to hold on, and then with one chance they can win the match," he told UEFA.com. "That is how the Italians are; they have that competitive edge, that winning nature that has seen them win so many titles."
Valdés knows that Del Bosque hit the mark when he pointed out that of the current Azzurri squad, Andrea Pirlo is the key man. He admires their mentality and he admires the little Juventus playmaker. "He's the player that carries the Italian midfield," said the 30-year-old. "Everything goes through him. They have wingers that get forward a lot, they go on the attack. The strikers play quite deep, but they are always looking for that assist from Pirlo. We'll have to keep an eye on him and how we can counter that type of play."
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