Spain seeks to cap historic treble

Spain seeks to cap historic treble

GNIEWINO, Poland - The Associated Press
Spain seeks to cap historic treble

Spanish players celebrate a goal against China in a friendly match prior to the European football championship. Defending European and world champion Spain will try to continue its fluid and intricate-passing game, which relies heavily on controlling possession. AFP photo

Spain meets Italy in not only its first game of Euro 2012, but also the first step in its bid to cap an unprecedented treble.

If holding European and World champion can win third title after 2008 and 2010, it will be a first-time event. Spain is the team to beat at the tournament, but coping with the absence of defender Carles Puyol could be one of the defending champion’s toughest tasks at the European Championship.

The 34-year-old Barcelona captain, often called a warrior leader because of his hardened appearance and shaggy locks, will miss a major tournament for the first time since his debut with Spain 12 years ago.

While Spain’s squad is replete with defensive talent, Puyol’s experience and character are significant losses. At the World Cup two years ago, a Puyol-less Spain opened the tournament with a surprise 1-0 loss to Switzerland.On Sunday, the team opens Group C against Italy.
“His wealth of experience is recognized by all,” Spain fullback Alvaro Arbeloa said earlier this week at Spain’s training base. “His personality on the field is the same off and we’re going to miss that.”

First game crucial

Especially before a daunting Group C opener against the Azzurri with memories of Switzerland still fresh, even though the Spanish rebounded from that loss with six straight wins to win the World Cup for the first time. “Nobody likes to lose the first game of a tournament like that, especially as a defeat leaves you with practically no margin for maneuver,” Arbeloa said. “Your confidence is always higher when you start with a victory.” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque offered few clues to who would fill the vacant spots left by Puyol and striker David Villa in his starting lineup in Gdansk. Midfielder Cesc Fabregas, forward Jesus Navas and Arbeloa all trained normally with the rest of the squad in front of hundreds of boisterous spectators, who were at times asked to quiet down by assistant coach Toni Grande.

Pique normally would have been an automatic choice to partner Ramos in the center of defense except the Barcelona center back enjoyed an irregular club campaign. Puyol, who postponed retirement from international duty to play in Poland and Ukraine, was enjoying a strong season before surgery on his right knee kept him from his third European Championship.

Spain’s defense has been prone to lapses on the counter with its midfield controlling so much possession.

“No doubt they are two important players who have been a vital part of Spain’s recent titles,” Martinez said of Puyol and Villa. “But we’re lucky that we can count on players who can do as good a job or better so that we don’t note those absences.”

In attack, Fernando Torres, Llorente and Alvaro Negredo are all vying for the starting striker’s spot, although Del Bosque could opt for different tactics and employ one of his midfielders in the striker’s role as Barcelona does with Lionel Messi. Manchester City playmaker David Silva could fill that role if Del Bosque isn’t convinced by his strikers.

“We have players who can play as false striker, who aren’t classic No. 9s, but who know how to play the position, like Silva for example,” Martinez said. “It’s not his normal spot, but he has a knack for goal and for getting to the net.”