As far as Spain’s Group C rivals are concerned, Andrés Iniesta said something that would have sent a chill down their spines in the build-up to facing Italy in Gdansk.
Despite the fact that Spain have won the last two major tournaments, UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the latter thanks to Iniesta’s glorious winning goal in the final, the FC Barcelona midfielder admits he participated in both competitions handicapped by injury.
Most famously of all, Iniesta contested the 2009 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United FC when club doctors estimated his thigh muscle injury left him at about 60% of optimum fitness. He insisted on forcing himself to play, telling his father that he’d only miss out if his leg actually dropped off.
That choice cost him major tranches of season 2009/10, and left him heading to the World Cup using motivational DVDs to help him deal with the impact on his morale that the catalogue of injuries had provoked.
Now, however, he is ‘hecho toro’ as they say in Spain – strong as a bull. “I feel great, full of confidence,” said Iniesta, a day before La Roja begin their European title defence. “During the last EURO and World Cup, I went to play despite having some real physical problems. Now I’m in great shape.”
That showed during the week when Spain trained in Gniewino. In one mini-match, Iniesta scored four goals, nipping away from tackles and driving his team forward all the time. Such form will be required on Sunday at the Arena Gdansk.
“It’s a very complicated beginning to our campaign,” he told. “Italy have very good players in their squad, but we have to focus more on ourselves than on them. We need to do well and play our game, and hope it will be good and fast. We need to create chances and convert them. Players like [Andrea] Pirlo, [Mario] Balotelli, [Antonio] Cassano and [Riccardo] Montolivo are high quality, which is something we have to be careful of. They have a solid team which is difficult to break through.”
Speaking to the Spanish players, particularly the key ones this week, has prompted a theme to emerge. It is abundantly clear that the idea of Spain relaxing a little or letting the euphoria around their play seduce them is anathema to people like Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández and Iker Casillas.
“Our motivation is that we have a great challenge ahead of us; we have the chance to win another EURO,” explained Iniesta. “It’s a nice challenge, but we know it’s going to be difficult. In fact, it becomes more and more difficult to be successful. But we just have to be ourselves, try to do things well, and we then have a good chance.
“If Spain are favourites, it’s because we won the last two big titles. But we were also considered favourites before we did that. We feel as if we’re favourites, but this certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ll win.”