Government under pressure after defeat
18 June ~ Friday's 5-1 thrashing by Holland means the reigning champions will likely exit the World Cup early should they not beat Chile tonight. But the game is more important than that. It has become a matter of state in Spain. President Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos I were even caught discussing it on Tuesday at Madrid's Palacio Zarzuela – in terms which citizens who have grown used to corruption in the country's highest places would have wearily recognised. "We have the game against Chile sorted," Rajoy said. "How much has it cost us?" replied the 76-year-old Juan Carlos. Rajoy decided against continuing the joke.
The conversation took place during the last public appearance by the unpopular Juan Carlos before he officially signs the law confirming his own abdication. Crown Prince Felipe is set to take the throne, with the hope of Spain's royalists being that a fresh face will quieten calls for the re-establishment of the republic ended by Francisco Franco's 1936 coup. The new Felipe VI would surely like for one of his first official duties to be congratulating Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández on winning another big trophy.
Meanwhile Rajoy also has his reasons for hoping under-fire captain Casillas regains his form and confidence quickly. The president is currently under pressure himself, due to new corruption scandals in his party, the conservative Partido Popular, as well as continuing huge youth unemployment and other economic woes. He admitted during Tuesday's chat that his own position could be further undermined by a bad result against Chile. "Hope is the last thing you lose," Rajoy said. "If they cannot do it then the government will be blamed."
Meanwhile Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has been playing down the need for a "revolution" in a team who looked tired and over the hill against the Dutch. Del Bosque says he will make only "two or three" changes to his XI, and has been working hard to lift the national mood in numerous extra press conferences, radio appearances and TV interviews through recent days.
"We're in a very difficult situation," Del Bosque said on Tuesday night. "But the most important thing is the opportunity is in our own hands. We can come back from that defeat. We hope it is temporary, and that tomorrow we can look towards the future with more optimism." Del Bosque is not the only one hoping for a change of mood in the country. If Spaniards can no longer believe in "San Iker" and his team, then they really are in trouble. Dermot Corrigan