Relaxed champions take it all in their stride
THERE’S NOT much to the little town of Gniewino, some 75 kilometres from Gdansk, and there’s barely even a signpost to help you on you’re way until you’re almost in the place. By then, the flags and banners celebrating the decision of the Spanish to base themselves there are everywhere and the 21 turbines of its wind-farm have come into view; going around and around and around. Perfect.
Perhaps it’s the setting or the fact that the team has progressed so smoothly to the semi-finals of this tournament but there was a strangely serene air to the defending champions’ latest press conference at Gniewino’s small but impressive centre of Culture and Tourism.
It was strangely understated and many of the media who made the journey yesterday were still busy chatting when Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso quietly took to the stage in the main conference room.
As he has on the pitch over the past couple of weeks too, the Real Madrid man made the greater contribution.
He is, of course, on something of a roll having scored twice on his 100th appearance for his country and played a key role in a defeat of France that ensured his side made it safely to the last four. Somehow, the team appears to have made it this far without either being severely stretched or really sparkling. There have been suggestions that they are tired which, if true, may prove a problem in Donetsk where Portugal will arrive better rested and having travelled less far.
Alonso, though, simply feels that they have had tough games and perhaps deserve a little more credit, although he’s not exactly shouting about the team’s biggest win of the tournament so far, the 4-0 defeat of Ireland.
“I’m not sure about that at all,” he said when asked why Italy had given the champions the most problems to date.
“The first game was really competitive, Italy are a great side. The third game against Croatia, was a pretty tough one.
“Why? They have a very good team. They played a cracking game against England. Their players are playing at the top level, Italy, and we are expecting something similar on Wednesday against Portugal.”
The Italian press has apparently described this Spanish team as boring but Alonso shrugged off a question about the assessment, saying simply that he respects all opinions but is happy with the system. He is, he observes a few moments later, pleased that the more adventurous sides have generally done well here over the last few weeks.