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Spanish out to learn from history

SoccerNews in La Liga, Serie A 21 Jun 2008

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When Spanish fans ask how a side which has produced attacking talents such as Raul and Emilio Butragueno and goalkeepers of the calibre of Iker Casillas and Andoni Zubizarreta never wins anything they often end up blaming their Latin cousins Italy.

And with good reason.

The Spanish are past masters of shooting out of the blocks at World Cups and European Championships.

Then around the quarter-finals it usually ends in tears.

The Italians, in contrast start slowly, apparently indifferent as to whether they even make it out of the opening group phase.

They invariably do – and having done so have a habit of then speeding up all the way to the final day of an event – witness four World Cups and one European title, in 1968.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” as Aesop's fable of the tortoise besting the hare would have it.

Spanish coach Luis Aragones insists that Spain must win the match in their minds as well as on the pitch, where La Furia Roja have only ever captured one trophy – the 1964 European Championship.

They did reach the 1984 final but lost to France and since then appear to have developed a quarter-final complex.

“A team which wants to win has to be convinced of its ability to do so and work on achieving that.

“We will try to ensure they do not hit us on the counter-attack,” added the “Wise Man of Hortaleza.”

Striker Fernando Torres says Italy are favourites because “Italy are the current world champions and that's not an accident. Their history makes them favourites.”

And just like his coach, he urged his compatriots to beware the counter attack.

Aragones' stress on the psychological side of winning hits a nerve in Spain as they have been here before.

The Italians came off best in the 1994 World Cup quarters, an ugly affair in which Spanish midfielder Enrique had his nose broken by an elbow jab from Italian defender Mauro Tassotti as Spain lost 2-1.

The Squadra Azzurra also won the 1934 World Cup meet at the same stage.

Midfielder David Silva picks out the Italians' Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni as the man they must keep on a leash.

“We know defensively Italy are very good and have a dangerman up front in Luca Toni. We must try to move the ball around as quickly as possible,” says Silva, recognising that to play the Italians at their own slow-burning game could “really cost us.”

Crucially, although Spain are on a run of nine straight wins – ten would be a record – they have not beaten Italy at a major competition for 88 years.

Sunday's date of June 22 is additionally particularly inauspicious for Spanish football following three exits by the national team in quarter-finals of international competitions on that date.

Spain was eliminated on June 22 in penalty shootouts against Belgium in the World Cup in 1986, against England in Euro 1996 and against South Korea at the 2002 World Cup.

But they can take some comfort from the fact that Italy will be without suspended key midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso while the Azzurri must make do and mend at the back with Andrea Barzagli out of action as he faces knee surgery.

As Spain look to win a match that could go a long way to shredding their underachievers' tag Italy defender Christian Panucci believes his side have the mental edge amid reports that most Spanish fans fear they will fall by the wayside once more.

“I can understand why the Spanish people don't want to play against Italy because in the past it has not been easy for Spain to play against Italy in these big competitions,” he said.

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