Aragones plays down rift speculation

Coach Luis Aragones has played down any suggestion of tension or unrest in the Spain camp as his side prepare to face world champions Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

Last week there were reports of a rift between Aragones and Fernando Torres and now there is supposedly a problem between Aragones and Sergio Ramos, with the two seen to have had a heated discussion during training on Friday.

However, Aragones talked down that incident, telling Spanish television TVE: “We were talking about the themes of the team and Sergio has expressed his opinion.

“There is an extraordinary atmosphere inside the changing room.

“The truth is that when there is no news they talk about things that have no importance.”

Spain will be hoping the controversies do not distract them from the task at hand tomorrow, which is a sizeable one.

The Iberian nation cruised through the group phase with three successive victories, but historically it is the quarter-final stages of major tournaments that have proved the downfall of Spanish sides down the years.

Only once have Spain managed to get beyond the last eight in World Cups, while in the European Championships they have only been able to do it on two occasions - going on to win on home soil in 1964 and then finishing as runners-up in 1984.

The date of June 22 – tomorrow’s date – has not been kind to the Spanish either, with the team suffering defeats on that day in the 2002 World Cup (against South Korea), Euro 96 (against England) and the 1986 World Cup (against Belgium) – all in penalty shoot-outs and all at the quarter-final stage.

Spain have also not recorded a victory against Italy in a competitive match since 1920, although they have had plenty of friendly success including a 1-0 win over Roberto Donadoni’s men in Elche in March.

With history seemingly against them, Spain have their work cut out to shed their unwanted tag of perennial underachievers – or ’chokers’ as some prefer to describe them – against an Italian side who have had no such problems on the big stage.

The four-times world champions may not have won the European Championships since 1968 but, despite a sluggish start to Euro 2008, they are still among the favourites to land the trophy in Vienna next weekend.

However, Aragones is also in confident mood ahead of tomorrow’s match in the Austrian capital.

“I take comfort in knowing how we are playing and I am eager for the game to arrive to show that we are capable of winning against the world champions,” said the 69-year-old, who nevertheless still has plenty of respect for their opponents.

“Italy have always had a great team. I think that they are almost perfect defensively, but that in attack they could have some weaknesses. However, they are a difficult team to beat.

“(But) we take comfort in knowing that if we give 110% we will win.”

Spain striker Torres believes Italy hold the slight edge, saying: “Italy are the current world champions, and that is no mean achievement. What Italy have done is not by chance and for this they are the favourites.

“But we don’t have any fear nor are we scared of the trophies they have won. We are aware of our potential and we are going to go out to win the game.

“It is a test for all of us and we are convinced that we are going to come through it.”

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