Holders Spain have not had everything their own way at UEFA EURO 2012 but they will go into Saturday's quarter-final with France as favourites all the same. Midfield linchpin Andrés Iniesta told UEFA.com that his side will need to be "aggressive and intense in possession" to overcome Laurent Blanc's side in Donetsk, and admitted that the criticism the world and European champions have faced back home "is there for a reason".
UEFA.com: It was unusual to see Spain put under so much pressure against Croatia. Why did you experience so much difficulty?
Andrés Iniesta: Well, there was a little bit of everything in that match. It was so difficult to play because we knew a draw would be enough for us to qualify and time just passed by with no goals scored. And, of course, we were facing Croatia, a great team, and they just needed to win to make it into the next round. All those different circumstances had an influence on certain periods of the match and made us kind of struggle a bit.
In general, the Spanish team didn't play a bad match, but yes, there were moments when Croatia took the initiative because they needed to win to qualify. Plus, of course, Spain can have difficulties in a match like any other team.
UEFA.com: The team has come in for criticism back in Spain during this tournament. How do you react to that?
Iniesta: Well, all thoughts or criticisms that are constructive, and aren't hurtful, have to be respected, and they always serve to improve. We just need a bit of patience, a bit of balance and coherence, because we all want to win, of course. We all want to do well and the coach puts out the team he thinks is the best for each match. You certainly have games where things go well and others where they don't.
We shouldn't think such criticism doesn't help when they say we played badly – the criticism is there for a reason. But when a team has played very well for a long period, and won the EURO and the World Cup, expectations are very high, and that is just something that goes along with the success you have. That's just inevitable.
UEFA.com: You enjoyed an excellent tournament on a personal level at UEFA EURO 2008 and you are even more crucial to the team now. How has your role evolved?
Iniesta: Well, my personal situation is different. Four years have gone by so my responsibility on the pitch has changed, and I've gathered more experience. As the years pass, you just feel better; every year you get more responsibility and just feel better within the team. So that's the big difference, the passing of the years that makes a player improve and learn things he didn't know before. I feel good at the moment, and I just hope it can last many more years.
UEFA.com: Next up for Spain are France, another team that likes to play attacking football. How do you see that quarter-final going?
Iniesta: It will be a very hard-fought match, meaning that they will want lots of possession. They like to pass the ball around well and have great quality in the team, especially from midfield to their attack. They're a very dangerous team. The key will be how effective we are and how much possession we have. We need to be aggressive and intense in possession, create, and take our chances. In knockout stages like this you really need to be clinical, and that's what matches like this are all about.
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