By Ed Dove
Holders Spain’s hopes of recreating the atmosphere that led to continental success four years ago has been tested ahead of their Euro 2016 opener with Czech Republic though the players remain confident.
Goalkeeper David De Gea has been dragged into an off-pitch scandal while Spain have also had a troubled build-up on the pitch, leaving the European champions with much to prove in their first Group C match in Toulouse on Monday.
Spain, who will also face Turkey and Croatia in a tricky section, were dominating international football when they became the first side to claim two consecutive European titles by winning Euro 2012 two years after a maiden World Cup win.
But that came to an abrupt end at the 2014 World Cup when they crashed out in the group stage, never recovering from a 5-1 demolition by the Netherlands in their opener, and they have endured some mediocre results ahead of this tournament.
However, forward Pedro says they are even more determined to do well after their poor display at the World Cup in Brazil as they chase an unprecdented third European title in a row.
“The mood reminds me of those of four years ago,” he told reporters at Spain’s headquarters on the Ile de Re on Saturday. “The group have a different mentality, they want to do something great and have a successful tournament.”
“We’re motivated. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a good World Cup and we want to turn that situation around.”
A 1-0 friendly defeat by Georgia in their final warm-up game raised questions of Vicente del Bosque’s selection policy after he left a swathe of big names out of his Euro 2016 squad including Juan Mata, Paco Alcacer and Fernando Torres.
He also had to wait for the late arrival of the Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid players in the squad following their participation in the Champions League final.
Manchester United keeper De Gea has vehemently denied allegations in the Spanish media linking him to a prostitution case and he has the backing of his team mates.
“We’re with (De Gea) and we must support him,” said Pedro. “We are calm, as he is, and this won’t destabilise the group.
“It’s not affecting us,” he added. “The atmosphere’s good.”
De Gea’s situation may prompt Del Bosque to stick with Iker Casillas in goal, while Alvaro Morata leads the race to start in attack after overcoming a thigh injury.
The Czech Republic qualified ahead of Iceland, Turkey and the Netherlands and Pavel Vrba has every member of his squad — including captain Tomas Rosicky — fit for Monday’s match.
“I had to work hard during the last two months,” Rosicky told reporters. “I intensified my training and played with the (Arsenal) reserves to get ready for Spain.”