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Gaizka Mendieta: I believe in this Spain team

EURO2020.com columnist Gaizka Mendieta backs Spain to come good and reflects on his own remarkable group decider back in 2000.

I'm not panicking. A little nervous, maybe. Like most things in life, you can either see the glass half full or half empty, and I'd like to take the positives. Spain probably haven't played well, but we should've won the first game against Sweden – we just didn't take our chances – and it was the same story for the second match against Poland.

What makes me a bit nervous is that, in the second half against Poland, the substitutes didn't seem to have an impact. But if Gerard Moreno had scored, we'd be talking completely differently. Now we go into the third game with a lot of responsibility and pressure.

Gerard was probably the best player on the pitch against Poland, especially in the first half. I think it worked to have the three up front of him, Álvaro Morata and Dani Olmo. I'd not be surprised if Luis Enrique repeated that, but it all depends on how he sees the players in the hotel, at training, etc.

The missed penalties at this EURO are hard to explain; sometimes it's just part of the game. I can't really put my finger on it, but I'd say maybe goalkeepers are better prepared in terms of studying players and how they take penalties. Goalkeepers are generally better prepared physically. I don't think the penalties have been particularly well taken either; they've not been hit with lots of pace to one side.

Lewandowski on Poland point against Spain
Lewandowski on Poland point against Spain

Robert Lewandowski's goal for Poland could help the Spain defence – in football, as in life, you learn from your mistakes. We've been good in defence but not at the level needed. You have to be more ruthless in defending, whether it's in the box or on the halfway line. The Poland goal came from one of their players getting a ball that was ours, in among three or four Spain players. All it needed was to be a bit stronger, to hold the ball better. You can pay a big price for little margins like that in a tournament. Hopefully we learn from it.

We know that a win against Slovakia will definitely take Spain through. Now, as a player, young or experienced, you know where you stand. I think that helps players focus mentally and physically, and hopefully we will be up to the task. In football, you prepare games to create chances for your strikers, your midfielders, or set pieces, or whatever your game plan is. Spain have been doing that and hopefully they'll continue to do so, and whoever is there will take those chances and score. Maybe that's the mental approach Spain need to change; the rest has been good.

I remember how we needed to win our final UEFA EURO 2000 group game against Yugoslavia to go through. We were 3-2 down heading into added time, but I scored a penalty to make it 3-3 and then Alfonso Pérez made it 4-3!

EURO 2000 highlights: Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain
EURO 2000 highlights: Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain

When I scored the penalty, I didn't actually get the ball: I ran back to the halfway line to get in position so they could kick off again. I forgot about the ball. I think it's Alfonso who actually grabs it. I run and I realise halfway back and I see him getting the ball. So yeah, of course you believe until the referee blows the full-time whistle – and you go and you go. That's how great comebacks happen, because you believe 100% you can do it. Otherwise, you shouldn't be on the pitch.

I wasn't nervous taking the penalty. At that moment, you try to remove yourself from the whole thing; it's you, your routine, how you take the penalties, where you put the ball, walk back. It's a process that you get into. You get into the zone; it's you versus the goalkeeper and that's it.

With the quality we had in that team, everything was clear for us: we need to score. Three more, two more, one more… There's no room in your head for any doubt. It's just go get the ball, be intense, put balls in the right areas, come inside and get shots off. Just create chances. I think that's one of the big things when you plan games: to create chances, chances, chances. Crosses, shots, passes, one-twos, creating one-v-ones.

Spain can still come good at this tournament
Spain can still come good at this tournamentAFP via Getty Images

Sometimes you don't need to talk about it much. You just look at each other and it's like, "Let's go. Let's go and do it."

I think Spain will go and do it on Wednesday. Football is results orientated. Winning games justifies a lot – losing means criticism. As a player in a team, you tend to see things differently and that's why I said I'm quite happy with how the team are performing. I think they can do it, because we have seen they have good players, a great team, great spirit and belief in themselves.

I believe in this team and these players that they've got the ability and quality to win to turn things around. If Spain play well and win, it could be the start of the tournament for them and hopefully propel them towards the end of the tournament too.

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