Spain v Italy, June 10, 5pm
10 June ~ There are a couple of reasons why most folk in Spain are not standing around discussing the chances of their national team in the European Championship, which would be the normal routine right about now. The first is that the most have come to the realisation that there really are more important things in life. With unemployment in Spain at nearly 25 per cent (around 50 per cent of those under 25) and talk of bank runs and bail-outs dominating the headlines, focusing on how to buy food and pay the monthly mortgage is the main preoccupation rather than football.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, met the squad before they headed off to Poland and gave them a pep talk as to the importance of winning Euro 2012 for the country’s morale, but it is unlikely that a victory would be anything other than a very temporary boost.
Although the 2010 World Cup win was a chance for a bit of a party and whopper of a hangover the next day, it did not pay the bills and get people back to work. While the footballers returned to their home towns as heroes, everyone else had to get on with dealing with a gruelling economic crisis that is seems to be without end.
The second reason why there isn’t as much national interest in the championship as previous tournaments, is that once you’ve won the last two that desire and hunger to pick up another one is considerably smaller. Euro 2012 is a nice-to-have rather than the must-win for teams like Germany and Holland, who have both been pipped by Spain over the past four years.
That’s not to say that people don’t fancy Spain’s chances, it’s just that there isn’t that sense of desire and longing for a side who are no longer "dark horses". Despite the loss of David Villa and Carles Puyol, Vicente Del Bosque’s squad is still strong. The absence of these two players could help Spain in one weakness the side suffers from – predictability. Until the team-sheet is released to the opposition this afternoon, Italy won’t be sure how the back-line up will look, with Sergio Ramos either playing at right-back or alongside Gerard Piqué, or who will be the country’s number nine.
There is time for interest and enthusiasm in the tournament to grow but while talk of life-savings disappearing, wage-cuts and further job losses continue, football will be taking a bit of a back seat in Spain, a country with a considerably bigger fish to fry. Tim Stannard