One of the hardest things for a substitute to do during a tournament is to find his role. Players like Víctor Valdés, Pepe Reina, Juan Mata, Juanfran, Fernando Llorente, Raúl Albiol and Pedro Rodríguez will work hard on a daily basis; that is in their DNA. But when you have trained, stretched and listened to the tactical briefings, what is left?
The natural instinct is to put your skills into practice, to unleash all the competitive tension and pressure which is locked up in every sinew and muscle. When that instinct is blocked, because there is a queue of players in front of you, problems can ensue.
However, there are instants, as shown when Reina correctly warned Iker Casillas to which side Óscar Cardozo was about to fire his penalty in the 2010 FIFA World Cup quarter finals, when an alert reserve player can contribute. Valdés might become one of those this week.
"My role in the Spain squad is the same as when I was first picked," the goalkeeper explained at Wednesday's press conference. "I'm a professional, 100%, and I work for the good of everyone around me – I want to bring everything I've got to this tournament and our group here. I know that the coach completely believes in me and if I'm called upon I'll be ready. Until then my job is to help in any way, to create a good atmosphere and to be ready."
The FC Barcelona No1 is a good judge of several of Spain's quarter-final opponents, France, having recently faced them at club level – Patrice Evra for Manchester United FC, Adil Rami for Valencia CF, Hugo Lloris of Olympique Lyonais, FC Bayern München's Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema against Real Madrid CF and Samir Nasri when he was at Arsenal FC. Valdés, therefore, is likely to be invited to share anything which might help put the holders in the last four.
"My experience is that France, from the midfield forward especially, are a team which like to get the ball wide, to create dangerous attacks and to play creatively. Benzema is one of the most dangerous strikers in the world and what stands out is his ability to shake off defenders one way or another.
"While Ribéry and Nasri are also dangerous opponents, it's the fact that Benzema has good link-up play, individual skill and that he finishes so well which makes him such a threat."
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