Friday 6 June 2008

Spain at peace in Tyrol surroundings

Fernando Torres arrives with the Spain squad in Innsbruck

Arriving at their training camp in Neustift must have been the equivalent of a tired man falling gratefully into a feather quilt and pillows for Luis Aragonés and his Spain squad on Thursday.

Warm welcome
From the cold reception of the Santander public on Wednesday night, when jeering and whistling tarnished an otherwise creditable 1-0 win against the United States, to a genuinely rapturous welcome from the Austrian locals was evidently a happy journey. Perhaps every team has been shown warmth and kindness on arrival. Perhaps everyone who visits the Tyrol is greeted this way. But the grins on the faces of Santi Cazorla, Fernando Torres, Aragonés and Sergio Ramos told a story of Spain looking around, sniffing the air and admitting that their manager had chosen a top-quality location.

Beautiful backdrop
Arrival day was a time for resting, stretching and acclimatising. No training, not too much media pressure, a time for everyone involved to assimilate their surroundings. In truth the majority of Spain's superstar, metropolitan players will not have seen much like Neustift, their training venue, and Milder, their home for the next few weeks. As with many of the contestants for the prize in Switzerland and Austria, Spain's training ground nestles at the foot of imposing, snow-capped mountains. But not all the visitors have also chosen to domicile themselves in the heart of the countryside. Around Spain's old-fashioned and beautifully constructed chalet hotel there are legions of lovely old Tyrolean houses, each of which has the owner's family name painted high on the main wall.

Calm atmosphere
Forty metres from the hotel which Aragonés selected - with the help of his old adversary Kurt Jare, who played in Spain in the 1970s and helped educate the Spain coach about his native community in Neustift - is a tiny chapel where the more religious players in the party will probably choose to go and pray from time to time. Towering in the background are fields on the Zuckerhut (Sugarloaf) and Elfer (Eleven-shaped) mountains, where goats and ponies graze on what seem to be vertical pastures. It is not training at altitude but for a Spain squad whose coach admits are suffering from tired minds and jaded muscles, the fresh air and calm atmosphere should be a tonic.

Time for business
The town of Neustift pushed the boat out for the arrival of Aragonés's men, with children singing in Spanish, traditional Tyrolean dancing, synchronised flag-waving and cannons which the mayor promised were not going to be aimed at their new guests. But now the serious business begins. The Neustift training complex was watering its pitches on Thursday afternoon because despite generally inclement weather the region has been basking in 30-degree temperatures for a significant time and the playing surface requires help to be at its best.

'Wonderful challenge'
After all the pomp and ceremony, there lies a task which Wednesday's defensive debutant, Fernando Navarro, summed up most clearly. "We've worked hard to be here, we are on a fantastic run of results and we now have to focus on the single goal of winning the tournament," said the RCD Mallorca player. "It's a wonderful challenge and we are here to win."