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We´re not Nadal, says Casillas

SoccerNews in European Championships 9 Jun 2008

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Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas insisted on Monday that the Euro 2008 Group D favourites were not a collection of individuals like their their star tennis player Rafael Nadal but instead a finely honed team.

Spain have frequently entered tournament finals considered amongst the best sides there but more often than not have flattered to deceive.

And they have come under fire in their own highly-demanding press recently for supposed weaknesses, particularly in defence.

However, ahead of their opening match against Russia here on Tuesday, the Real Madrid goalkeeper claimed they have the right collective mentality to succeed.

“Spain have a lot of good players but we also have a collective spirit so there’s no rivalries within the camp, there’s no Nadal (who won his fourth successive French Open title on Sunday) here,” he said.

“The team plays together, we move forward together and sometimes one player pulls the wagon harder than the others but we’re still all marching to the same drum.”

Spain come up against a coach in Guus Hiddink who has already masterminded their demise once before, at the 2002 World Cup where, courtesy of some rather dubious refereeing, his South Korea knocked the Europeans out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage.

Hiddink has also previously coached in Spain at Real Madrid, Valencia and Real Betis.

Casillas, though, denied that this would put the Russians at an advantage.

“Obviously he knows Spanish football well, which could be an advantage but as for knowing the players, it’s a different era from when he coached at Madrid and Valencia.

“Xavi and I were in South Korea and Japan and we respect teams coached by Hiddink, they always put up a good fight.

“Having Hiddink as a coach makes a team respectable and dangerous.”

Midfield orchestrator Xavi, of Barcelona, said he is most worried about the pace in the Russian team, particularly on the counter-attack.

“We’ve looked at their team and we know they have fast players that aren’t that well known at a European level,” he said.

“They have very fast players up front, good technical players, it won’t be easy.

“Their coach knows us well … they’ll be ready for us and will give us a run for our money.”

Spain’s unpredictable coach Luis Aragones said he was wary of Russia’s counter-attacking flair but that he was not afraid of them.

“There’s no fear, if this was a war I’d be scared but it’s just a football match,” he said.

“We are very much aware of our responsibilities but we’re not afraid of anything,” added the 69-year-old, who steps down after the tournament.

Asked what Russia’s strengths were, Aragones seemed to list almost every aspect of a football team.

“Their whole team, the midfield five, they’re very difficult to break down, their counter-attack, their pace, most of all their forwards,” he said.

“Russia also play at a very high tempo.”

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