Bonus row won't distract Spanish


THE COMBINED news that Barcelona couldn’t pay their wages for June and the Spanish football federation have promised their players €600,000 apiece if they win Sunday’s World Cup final against the Netherlands, is a timely reminder that you get nothing for nothing in this game and much of what is to be admired comes with a hefty price tag.

Barcelona employ seven of the 11 players who started the win over Germany on Wednesday night, having bought a couple and brought the rest through their famed youth academy.

Now it turns out, their formula isn’t a magic one after all. It simply involves overspending in a rather more endearing way.

At least the scale of the bonuses, considered something of a scandal back in Spain where opposition politicians have been contrasting the payments with the austerity measures and salary cuts being endured by less extraordinary Spaniards, means the players’ families won’t go hungry.

Iker Casillas is unlikely to have done himself any favours, however, by suggesting that while the players know people who are feeling the pinch too, comparing the two is to make the mistake of “mixing up one thing with another.”

It’s not surprising in the circumstances that Xavi, the team’s inspirational midfielder and, along with Carles Puyol, one of the two vice-captains who negotiated the bonus deal, preferred to keep his head down with regard to financial matters and concentrate on the prospect of facing the Netherlands at Soccer City.

“Let’s enjoy the final,” said the 30-year-old midfielder. “If we play on Sunday like we did today,” he suggested, with some justification, “we will have a great chance. We played as we wanted to and now it’s a final against Holland, a great team playing great football with great players in midfield and up front.”

It’s funny how nobody talks about the backline or, for that matter, the goalkeeper, when they set out to pay the Dutch compliments.

After the way the Germans struggled to contain the Spanish attack in Durban, it’s hard to contemplate the Netherlands’ chances of coping on that front without at least a little anxiety.

The Spanish, though, will have to rise to the occasion in much the same way as they did at the Moses Mabhida stadium.

A rather mediocre Swiss team has already shown the European champions can be beaten, and Vicente del Bosque’s players now need to make history in more ways than one on Sunday if they are to complete their remarkable double – for no team has ever lost their opening game at World Cup and then gone home with the trophy.

“It’s true we will have to play well again,” said the team’s leading scorer, David Villa, “but we have shown that in the big moments we rise to the occasion. It (the Germany game) is the best game we have played. We deserved to score more but a Puyol goal put us in the final and we are delighted with that.”

With everyone likely to be fit and available for Sunday’s game, del Bosque must once again decide who will be handed the role of playing alongside Golden Boot front-runner David Villa against the Dutch.

The contenders remain unchanged, with Cesc Fabregas being another option, assuming he does not suffer further problems with the leg injury that affected his ability to train earlier this week.

The more obvious choice, though, is between Fernando Torres and 22-year-old Pedro, who started in his place in Durban.

The Barcelona man sparked a significant improvement in some of the team’s attacking play but ultimately did not do himself any favours with the rush of blood to his head that prevented him setting Torres up with a clear-cut chance to make the game safe late on.

One man, meanwhile, whose chance of featuring at this World now looks to have certainly passed is Torres’ Liverpool team-mate Pepe Reina, who might have got a run out had the team been consigned to Saturday’s third place play-off but who will now have to content himself with cheering his side on from the dug out and, of course, the win bonus if Spain are successful.

Reina insists, though, he is entirely happy with his supporting role.

“Yes,” he says, “if there is someone in the team they need help from, everybody helps, because we are a group.

“We know we are really important players, all 23, but only 11 plus three subs can play so for all the rest of the players, the only thing we can do is to help the people who are playing.

“It is hard, believe me. It is hard, especially when you are a hot blood and you feel some passion out there. Of course it’s not nice to lead the game from the bench but it is the role we have to play now and we have to respect the one who is playing. That is only right.

“We will respect Holland too,” he adds. “The reason they are in the final and not some of the really big names like Brazil, is because they have played really good football out here.

“We know that they will give us a really tough game now. They have similarities with Germany and good players; really skilful players, and it is going to be tough. But we have to be loyal to our philosophy and ideas and we will die with that.

“There is no pressure on, really,” he concluded, “because we have done already more than any team in the history of Spain.

“From that point of view it doesn’t matter what happens in the final. Of course we want to win it but if it does not happen we will still be really proud of what we did.”