Spanish honour at stake in Croatia clash

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Monday night’s final Group C match against Croatia really is a win-win affair for Spanish fans – unless of course La Roja lose and are prematurely ejected from Euro 2012 before the side has barely warmed up. So, by LLL’s rejigged reckoning, the game is a win-win-lose.

Beat their rivals fair and square and they can continue strolling around the moral high ground, where the Spanish press re currently taking their holidays; end up with 2-2 draw against Croatia and it’s bye-bye Italy. Although there would be a giant hullabaloo about pacts and deals and what-not, no one would care that much, really, as Italy being knocked out in the group stages would be a source of enormous amusement and mirth in Spain.

Nevertheless, Marca are there to soothe Italian fears of a stitch-up by reminding the country that the Spanish are not... well... Italian. The headline “Don’t worry, we don’t hold grudges” carries the implication that they have every right to, considering it is accompanied by a picture of Luis Enrique having had his nose just broken by Mauro Tassotti at USA 94.

“La Roja doesn’t understand deals,” preens the paper, carefully drawing a distinction between the national team – which is as clean as a whistle, especially during the closing Euro 84 qualifier in which they beat Malta by precisely the 11 goals they needed – and Spanish league football, which can be a little iffy from time to time, something that Marcelo Lippi was keen to point out. “Ask Villarreal if Spanish football is honourable. They went down in the last game as two teams had a result that was comfortable for both of them.”

AS are calling for Spain to win the game fair and square, firstly to make sure the team goes through, but also to avoid any suspicions in regards to the honour and dignity of a great nation. “Spain doesn’t do these things,” boasts Alfredo Relaño. “Spain carries the flag of football.”

Spain fans carrying a flag to the football

There are many reasons to believe Xavi, who notes that his team “only knows how to attack as a draw would not suit us.” The first is that ‘arranging’ such a high-scoring outcome could be fiddly and as one pundit on the radio noted, Spain wouldn’t be very good at making everything look quite normal. Another is that it would be a rather dangerous approach: at 2-2, a late Croatia goal would knock Spain out and see the players never being allowed back in the country again.

However, the big debate has been a pleasing distraction from the constant talk over whether Vicente Del Bosque will be playing a striker or not. Besides, there are bigger concerns for Spain ahead of Monday’s game in relation to cards and suspensions, with Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martínez and Fernando Torres all one yellow away from missing a possible quarter-final clash.

This may see a few rejigs in the team, with LLL suspecting that Juanfran will come in for Arbeloa – not a sentence many would have foreseen last summer – and Santi Cazorla taking Xabi Alonso’s spot in midfield. Despite the changes, it’s going to be a 3-0 victory for the reigning champions… although should the sides share four goals, the blog will lick its lips in anticipation of the mother of all poop-storms between two countries who don't rub along that well at the best of times.