- Spain go into this summer's
European Championship finals with a growing feeling that this
might, just might, be the year they finally come of age in an
The side's startling run of form in qualifying for the event
in Belgium and the Netherlands, when they scored 40 goals in
seven straight victories following the opening debacle in
Cyprus, is only part of the reason for the optimism being felt
in the country.
After all, Spain, the perennial underachievers of world
football, know all about doing well in qualifying only to freeze
up when the serious business gets underway.
This time out, however, there exists the sensation that
coach Jose Antonio Camacho has at his disposal a group of
players nearing the peak of their game -- and with the sort of
European experience, gained over the last two years at club
level, that could take them all the way to the tape.
There is also the Camacho factor itself, the fact that Spain
now have a coach who is a born winner, just as determined as his
predecessor Javier Clemente but more willing to take risks.
And finally there is the confidence that is bubbling through
the side -- so much so that the coach has several times felt the
need to counsel caution as Spain prepare for what could be their
finest moment at international level.
"You know what always happens?" an exasperated Camacho
questioned recently. "We win all the qualifying matches, we fail
to respect the opposition and then it all goes wrong.
"I'd just like everyone to remember that our opponents,
Norway, Slovenia and Yugoslavia, are strong teams. They haven't
made it through to the finals by accident.
"We're one of the seeded sides but that doesn't count for
anything. We're not among the favourites. We've never won a
thing at this level of competition and we shouldn't be
Damping down expectations looks like being Camacho's biggest
problem, given the reasons to be cheerful in the Spanish camp.
Camacho's squad is likely to feature 10 players who have
been part of the Spanish domination of the Champions League this
season, from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.
Real stars Michel Salgado, Raul Gonzalez, Ivan Helguera and
Fernando Hierro are certain to make the final 22 if fit, while
Fernando Morientes also looks a good bet.
Barcelona will supply Pep Gaurdiola, Abelardo Fernandez and
Sergi Barjuan, while Gaizka Mendieta and goalkeeper Santiago
Canizares will join them from Valencia.
Three more players from Athletic Bilbao -- Joseba
Etxeberria, Julen Guerrero and Ismael Urzaiz -- performed well
in the Champions League last year, while Real Mallorca's Vicente
Engonga was one of the best players on show in last year's Cup
Winners' Cup final defeat to Lazio.
Guardiola, a veteran of Barcelona's 1992 European Cup final
win and maturing into one of the finest midfielders in the game,
is the playmaker and de facto leader of the side, although the
captain's armband will go to Hierro, assuming he recovers from
his knee problems in time.
Guardiola, Hierro and Canizares together form the backbone
of the side, with a solidity available to few coaches in Europe,
while Raul, whose quicksilver skills proved too much for
Manchester United recently, gives the side that extra something
The achievement of Camacho, who came into the job with no
great record as a coach, in restoring confidence after a
disastrous showing at France 98 and a 3-2 defeat to Cyprus in
their first Euro 2000 qualifier has been a sizable one.
The former Real Madrid defender, who won just about
everything there is to win during his Bernabeu career, has put
his trust in the players, instilling them with the belief that
they need not feel inferior to anyone.
They have demonstrated that in a series of recent
friendlies, including a 0-0 draw with Brazil that saw Rivaldo
and co lucky to come away with a draw, and a highly convincing
2-0 win at home to Italy.
Camacho is still wary when asked to assess Spain's chances,
however, stressing the country's poor record in international
In European championships, for example, Spain have been
consistent underachievers since winning the tournament at the
second attempt in 1964, when they hosted the event from the
That tournament was tiny compared to the 16-nation
competition that awaits them this time, and their record in such
large-field events has brought them just one goodish result,
when they lost the 1984 final to France.
It is because of that record that Camacho is warning against
"Until we've won a big competition we just won't be
comparable to teams like Germany or Italy who whoever," he says.
"We can play as well as them, sure, but in the moment of
truth they'll hit the post and the ball will trickle in, while
we'll hit the post and the ball will run to safety."
As they go into Euro 2000 that's the paradox for Spain --
among the favourites for the competition but with no one really
expecting them to win.
Copied from Dailysoccer by Patryk L. AKA labas
Will Spain finally do it. I don't think so, but they'll be close, that's for sure.