Spanish coach plays down favourite talks

10th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Luis Aragonés dismisses favourite talks, saying that Spain can beat anybody when they are playing to their potential, but can also lose to anybody too.

10 June 2008

MADRID - "Will we get past the quarterfinals?" ask the billboards as Spain, traditionally associated with elimination at that stage of international tournaments, prepares to mount a challenge in the European Championship Finals in Austria and Switzerland.

After an abject showing in 2004, when the team was knocked out at the group stage following a 1-0 loss to finalist Portugal, and further defeat to France in the second round of the 2006 World Cup, many may wonder if Spain can make it that far. Grouped with Sweden, Russia and reigning champion Greece, qualification for the quarterfinals is by no means assured.

Spain faces Russia at Innsbruck's Tivoli Neu stadium Tuesday in the group D opener (6pm Cuatro TV), and although the team prevailed in their last competitive meeting in the 2004 championships, the spectre of an old adversary, Guus Hiddink, will ensure that the technically inferior opposition is not underestimated.

Russia coach Hiddink led South Korea to fourth place in the 2002 World Cup, eliminating Italy in the second round and Spain in the quarterfinals. Qualifying from a group that contained England was a coup, but Hiddink is cautious about his team's chances of repeating South Korea's exploits.

"The favourites have each won their opening game," said Hiddink on Monday.”So tomorrow in our confrontation with Spain - and I have said many times that they are favourites - we hope to break the pattern."

Russia will be without talismanic forwards Andrei Arshavin, who is suspended, and Pavel Pogrebnyak, whose loss through injury is a considerable blow to the team's chances of progressing beyond the group stage.

Spain, meanwhile, has been installed as second favourites to win the competition, a garland that the team's famously taciturn coach, Luis Aragonés, is keen to play down, despite wins against his own picks for the title in the build-up to the tournament.

"The favourites are Italy and France," he said before the tournament began. "Spain cannot be called a favourite. We can beat anybody when we are playing to our potential, but we can lose against anybody as well."

Spain can take heart from its only European success thus far, in 1964, when it defeated the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final, in Madrid. A similar result Tuesday may be the tonic Spain needs to fuel belief, but it will not have escaped Aragonés that he could meet France or Italy at the quarterfinal stage.

[El Pais / R. Train / Expatica]

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