After an unexpectedly tough season at club level, Gerard Piqué arrives at UEFA EURO 2012 confident a "united" Spain team can claim a third successive international trophy.
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This has been an unusual season for Gerard Piqué – four trophies but also unwelcome focus on his relationships with both Josep Guardiola and his pop star girlfriend Shakira.
On the pitch, for the first time since he returned to Catalonia from Manchester United FC in 2008 he lost out on the Liga title. And as for the idea of taking his club partnership with Carles Puyol into the UEFA European Championship to ease the domestic pain by winning a third straight international trophy, that prospect disappeared with Puyol's recent knee surgery.
But not for nothing is the 25-year-old nicknamed Piquenbauer, a soubriquet that fills its inspiration, Franz Beckenbauer, with delight. Piqué is at once elegant and tough, and has no concerns about teaming up with Sergio Ramos in the middle of Spain's normally watertight defence or opening Group C against a notoriously pugnacious Italy on Sunday. Missing Puyol may be a little bit harder to come to terms with.
"Puyi is like a brother to me and we've shared four great years together for club and country," conceded the FC Barcelona centre-back. "I'm obviously going to miss the guy and it's a great pity he can't be here with us. But Sergio Ramos is a top central defender, I get on well with him. People say we don't like each other but that's not right, just like people questioned how I got on with Pep Guardiola this season. We are all here united as Spain players with the same objective of winning the championship again."
The much-quoted statistic that, if Spain were to follow their tournament victories of 2008 and 2010, they would become the first nation ever to win three successive trophies, might be even more daunting – but not for Piqué.
"I like being called favourites – there's a reason for that," he explained. "It indicates people know we have a team to win this title. I like the extra pressure that brings. Everyone is going to view us as the enemy and I'm sure that one team at least is going to really get after us. But, equally, if we play our game and impose our philosophy then we can and will win this tournament."