Spain confident it can win

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

BERNE, Switzerland -- Ask who will win Euro 2008 and you won't get unanimity.

Mention Spain and that country's team usually is among the first three touted as contenders.

But that is accompanied by the universal language most everyone here understands -- a roll of the shoulders, and maybe a finger to the head.

No one is quite sure why Spain has found almost no success when it comes to big soccer tournaments.

Failing to find adequate responses, it leaves people befuddled. Ergo, the only true explanation comes down to letting people mess with their heads and a mental block that says: "You shall go no further."

Spain will take Step 1 in shutting up its critics, while shedding its well-earned title of Tournament Under-achiever, against Russia today in Innsbruck. It's the first game for both Group D teams.

Most expect Russia to go after the group games. Not only is it a young team but it has injuries. Spain, Sweden, and Greece are all better.

Russia's coach Guus Hiddink took South Korea to the World Cup semifinals in 2002. On the way, that South Korean side eliminated Spain in the quarterfinal.

Hiddink is a master at mind games. Since everyone else is putting pressure on Spain, he might as well pile on.

Subtle he isn't.

Hiddink said Spain were "huge favourites" to win the game.

"Spain are a very experienced side," Hiddink said at a news conference. "Many of my players are appearing in their first major tournament and they need more experience.

"You will see a Russian team that is intent on playing football and complicate life for Spain.

"Nevertheless, Spain are the big favourites because of their experience."

It's a case of men against boys, and you would have a hard time arguing with him.

You can question Spain's mental strength, its ability to handle pressure and whether it has any guts but you can't question its talent.

Much of it is in the midfield and attack. Fernando Torres is a world-class striker and David Villa is developing into one.

Torres and Villa scored 56 goals between them for their club teams this year.

They come into the game against Russia with a six-game winning streak and have gone 16 games without losing.

LEARN FROM HISTORY

It always helps to learn from history; ignore it you are doomed to repeat it.

Spain went into the 2006 World Cup not having lost in 21 games. France knocked out Spain in the second round.

Since no one is going to cut Spain any slack, it might as well start touting itself as the team to beat.

Coach Luis Aragones thinks his team should win today and Villa predicts a appearance in the final.

"I am convinced that we can reach the final and have a great tournament," Villa was quoted as saying.

"We have been together as a squad for many years and I think the squad is completely united.

"You have to be confident in such a big tournament and that can bring you goals. I finished the season well and hope I can continue it for Spain."

That's confidence but also a little like talking to yourself when you're walking in a scary place. It's a shaky confidence.

While Spain is strong up front, it always has been questioned about its ability at the back.

It may not be heavily tested by Russia, since Russia probably will play to steal a point, but even so, there is a feeling inside Spain's camp that the criticism of its defence is overdone.

Spain hasn't been scoring much in its past five games, failing to score more than once in those games. But it also shut out France and Italy in a pair of wins.

Really, how bad can Spain be?

The real test for Spain will come when it faces adversity.

Will La Furia Roja respond or will it leave red-faced and furious yet again?


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