Spain Euro 2012 Focus – Holders feeling the pressure

In the wake of Spain’s hard-fought 1-0 victory over China in their final Euro 2012 warm-up game, some stars of the squad have attempted to play down the favourites’ chances for the tournament itself. Both Xabi Alonso and Xavi have had a say in the tournament build-up, the Real Madrid man suggesting the squad will struggle to live up to expectations and Xavi insisting the Euros are harder than the World Cup. This could be a ploy to quell expectation levels ahead of the tournament, or it could reflect the camp’s level of preparedness. In which case, could they have a point?

Despite being holders of both the Euros and the World Cup, this is the first tournament Spain will enter as favourites. And although La Roja are always considered to have a starting XI that picks itself, with Carles Puyol and David Villa both out, as well as the narrow China win, Vicente Del Bosque has plenty to consider in terms of personnel ahead of the opener against Italy.

“The expectations aren’t just high, but they are soaring. The bar is almost insurmountable,” Xabi Alonso told El Mundo Deportivo. The country will certainly be expecting more than a fortuitous victory against China, which was the first time the coach was able to select players from Barcelona or Athletic Bilbao, after the Copa Del Rey final last week. In a line-up including Xavi and Sergio Busquets, which more closely resembled Spain’s likely XI than did the Serbia and South Korea wins, it was instead Andres Iniesta, on as a half-time substitute, who was the only of the Barcelona contingent to impress.

In that respect, the Spanish might enter the tournament less prepared than some of their rival nations, whose domestic seasons ended some time before Spain’s. Quite how much La Roja missed Iniesta’s creativity, and indeed the Iniesta-Xavi engine, against the Chinese is startling, and how easily this defence was split on numerous occasions might alert their Group C rivals that La Roja may take some time to reach form in the tournament.

The choice to play Korea and China as warm up games is interesting in itself. It has long been believed that the way to beat Spain – and indeed Barcelona – is to neutralise their creativity with a block defence, before taking one of few chances created on the break. That is how Switzerland defeated La Roja at World Cup 2010 and it is how Chelsea defeated Barcelona in this year’s Champions League semi-finals. Perhaps choosing more solid European nations after the Serbia fixture would have been a more realistic test, especially if Xavi is to be believed, who said: “The Euros are harder than the World Cup. In the World Cup, with all respect, you can face Honduras or Saudi Arabia.”

So there are still question marks over Del Bosque’s line-up, his squad’s preparedness – particularly the Barcelona squad after a long season – and how the other nations will play against the favourites. As such, the early games will be a real test for Spain.

Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.

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