Tuesday 10 June 2008
England legend Gary Lineker is backing Spain to end their long wait for silverware at UEFA EURO 2008™. The sole Spanish success on the international stage was back in 1964 but Lineker believes coach Luis Aragonés now has the necessary quality right through his squad to make a major impact in Austria and Switzerland.
Reflecting on a Spanish challenge that will open against Russia in Innsbruck on Tuesday, Lineker – who spent three seasons in the Primera División with FC Barcelona in the late 1980s – told euro2008.com: "I think they have greater strength-in-depth than before. People have always said they have got four or five good players, and they've got a good league. This time you see [Iker] Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi [Hernández], [Cesc] Fŕbregas, [David] Villa, [Fernando] Torres, Xabi Alonso, one or two others. They have real depth to their squad and that could make a difference."
The former England striker, now fronting the BBC's television coverage of these finals, is particularly impressed by Spain attackers Torres – scorer of 24 goals in his maiden Premier League campaign with Liverpool FC – and Villa. "I like their pace, I like their ability to score goals, they are a real handful and I like their goals record," said Lineker, who struck 48 times for England. "Torres is a better goalscorer than I thought he was and Villa has been prolific in Spain. It gives them an edge." Lineker, who appeared for England in the 1988 and 1992 UEFA European Championships, reckons Spain are benefiting from the experience gained by both Torres and Arsenal FC midfielder Fŕbregas in the Premier League. "It is good for them that they are moving away and have players in England experiencing different kinds of football," he said.
If the stresses and strains of an English season leave a question mark against that duo – "will they do what England do and be knackered in June?" – Lineker dismissed the argument that, after years of international underachievement, Spain's footballers lack the mental strength to win. "People say they always choke, they bottle it, but if you look at Spanish sportsmen in their tennis and their golf, they are anything but that so why should they be any different in football?" the 47-year-old said. "I don't think that is the case. I don't think they've ever had enough good players to do it but this time maybe it will be different, although it is a tough tournament to win."