Like it or not, Spain deserves respect

Spain defender Sergio Ramos reacts during his club's Euro 2012 quarterfinal match against France at...

Spain defender Sergio Ramos reacts during his club's Euro 2012 quarterfinal match against France at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, June 23, 2012. (CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET

KIEV - Instead of respect, there is resentment.

Instead of wanting to see them make history, there is a desire to see them fall flat on their faces.

Just when did the Spanish suddenly become the bad guys?

Here they are, on European soccer’s biggest stage, just one win away from becoming the first team, according to UEFA, to win three consecutive major international tournaments.

Here they are, all set to go cleat-to-cleat with the upstart Italians, knowing that a victory in Euro 2012 will complete their never-before-done trifecta, one that also includes titles in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

Yet, in the days leading up to Sunday’s championship game, the questions posed to the likes of manager Vicente Del Bosque, goalkeeper Iker Casillas, midfielder Xavi Hernandez and defender Sergio Ramos had little to do with their attempt to trudge into soccer immortality.

Instead, the manager and his players were peppered with far more negative queries.

“Do you think people are tired of seeing you win?”

“How do you respond to people saying you are boring?”

“Do you think you need to play with more flair?”

It is as if anyone that does not have that passionate, fiery Spanish blood pumping through their veins is sick of watching La Furia Roja continuously have success.

In a way, that is doing Del Bosque’s squad a bit of an injustice.

You don’t have to like them. Hey, loathe them if you choose.

But at least respect them for their accomplishments. Because those are undeniable.

Sure, the Spanish came to Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine as favourites. They also came here with a lot of warts.

David Villa, Spain’s all-time leading scorer who produced so many dramatic, decisive goals for the Spanish in South Africa two years ago, underwent surgery on his left leg in December and was ruled out for the entire tournament. So, too, was shutdown defender Carles Puyol, who went under the knife to clean up some issues in his right knee last month.

A spokesperson for the Spanish national team said on Saturday that both players will be on hand as spectators to support their teammates in their quest to go where no side has gone before.

According to the oddsmakers, there is little to choose from between the two sides. Spain are listed as 6/5 favourites by bet365.com, a margin that is far closer than you would have expected a month ago when this tournament started.

Such has been the onslaught of negativity aimed at the defending champs that UEFA head Michel Platini finally had enough and came to the defence of the Spanish at his press conference on Saturday when it was suggested that Del Bosque’s side plays moribund soccer.

“I don’t agree at all,” Platini said. “It’s impressive how much they move the ball. It’s a different style, but based on tactical intelligence and great technical ability.”

Italian manager Cesare Prandelli echoed Platini’s sentiments.

“Spain are the best side in the world because they always stick to their philosophy,” Prandelli said on Saturday. “We’ve always said they are the side to beat.”

For their part, the Spanish are embracing their flirtation with history instead of being burdened by it. According to Ramos, win or lose, they will hold their heads high on the pitch when the final whistle is tooted in front of 65,000 fans in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium and an estimated 250-million television viewers around the world.

In his mind, they already have left their footprint on the sport.

“We are aware of what we are playing for on Sunday,” he said. “It is something that as of today no team has ever achieved. It requires many years of work and sacrifice. No matter what happens we have already made history.

“Maybe there are some that don’t value it but for the work we have done I think the whole country ought to be proud. Even if we lose we can return with our heads held high.

“This hasn’t finished though and the icing on the cake would be to return and win the Euro.”

You don’t have to like them. Or cheer for them. Or pimp their style of play.

But they deserve to be respected.

History dictates it.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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