Many people already have Spain pencilled in as the first side to win successive UEFA European Championships and the first to win three major tournaments on the trot – in short, a team destined to pen a new chapter in the long narrative of international football on 1 July. For coach Vicente del Bosque, though, they must rewrite the history books far sooner.
La Roja have never beaten France in a competitive fixture, most recently losing to them in the 2006 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals. Since then, however, they have torn up the back catalogue of records and precedents and suffered only one defeat in qualifying or major tournament football – against Switzerland in South Africa two years ago.
"Everybody thinks we're favourites because we won the EUROs four years ago and the World Cup two years ago," said Del Bosque. "But there's also evidence that France have always been better in competitive fixtures so we'll just have to see if we can change history. We are modest but optimistic."
All wry smiles and idiosyncrasies, Del Bosque can play it down all he likes, but the pedigree at his disposal brooks no argument. He admits he still has "some doubts about the starting lineup", but dilemmas such as choosing between a 'faux' centre-forward like Cesc Fàbregas, or a traditional striker like Fernando Torres, will hardly evoke sympathy from his rivals.
Del Bosque admitted as much himself: "We have great players and we have different options. I've always had 23 great players and I could use all of them – that's why I have doubts."
Though Laurent Blanc does not have such an embarrassment of riches, there is at least a silver lining to the cloud that is Philippe Mexès's suspension – Laurent Koscielny will come in for his first competitive international – while the "indispensable" Yohan Cabaye is back from a thigh injury and Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri are both available following minor knocks. Whoever starts, Blanc knows all too well that they will have to dig deep in this mining hotbed.
"I usually say we have to adapt as little as possible to our opponents and play to our own strengths, but we're coming up against Spain, who have a very specific playing style," he said. "You are forced to adapt but the problem is that
Spain have the ball 65 or 70% of the time and they won't give it back to you.
"We know Spain have dominated world football for four years but there are some signs that teams can trouble them. If you defend against Spain, if you stay compact, if in the first 20 to 30 minutes you show you really are in the game, then you are going to have an opportunity to win. First of all you have to fulfil these criteria or you can get punished."
Cautious words from Blanc, which to some might suggest an approach similar to the one which took Chelsea FC past FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Del Bosque, for one, is not buying it. "I have a hard time believing they will just close the defence," he said. "They have players who can take the initiative. I don't see them waiting for us to do something."
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