One of the techniques which has served Spain so well during their recent successes has been to allow the players significant chunks of free time to enjoy with friends and family – or simply to go out and have a couple of celebratory drinks.
Understandably, the players deeply appreciate the trust shown in them by coach Vicente Del Bosque and La Roja usually reap the benefits once the team meets back up to train and play. They were impressive again as they defeated France 2-0 last night and the prize for the squad – aside from Wednesday’s semi-final against Portugal – was a free pass until midnight on Sunday. The reigning world and European champions promptly scattered to the four corners of Gdansk and the surrounding countryside.
In the absence of Del Bosque and the players, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) took the step of allowing the press a question and answer session with four of Del Bosque's technical staff at their basecamp in Gniewino: assistant coach Toni Grande, fitness coach Javier Miñano, goalkeeping coach José Manuel Ochotorena and chief scout Paco Jiménez.
Jiménez is the man who will present Del Bosque with a video dissection of Portugal and he was very clear about one misapprehension Spain need to avoid. "
The idea that Portugal are simply Cristiano Ronaldo and ten others is wrong," he said.
"This is a great team, certainly the best we've faced so far. Ronaldo is in good form and he's a terrific player, but they have talent all over the pitch, two centre halves who'd get in most teams in the tournament and a midfield which, like ours, prefers to maintain possession and use the ball to probe. They are also very quick on the counterattack."
The physical condition of the players was another major theme in the wake of Spain's trip back from hot and humid Donetsk, not least since Portugal will have 48 hours more to prepare for the Iberian derby. "Having less time to recover than Portugal is a disadvantage but it's not an excuse," said Miñano.
"We'll try to allow the players to use the same recuperation techniques and practices they use with their clubs because they know their bodies best. But we don't know where their limits are yet. A few years ago, we'd never have conceived of players performing in 72 games a season and racking up well over 5,000 minutes as some of our guys have done."
Having landed at Gdansk airport around 05.00CET on Sunday and needing to fly back to Donetsk on Tuesday, the question was asked why Spain chose not to stay put in the Ukrainian city. "The primary factor was how well we can train here in Gniewino," said Miñano. "The pitch is good, the conditions are tranquil and it feels a little like home. We asked the question and the majority view was to travel back and forth."
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