These have been nervous days, Vicente del Bosque admitted, but then again they always are. This was not about David de Gea, although the Spain manager said that a decision on who starts in goal against the Czech Republic on Monday had not been taken, a judgment yet to be made regarding whether the past two days have affected the man at last set to become their No1. Nor, he said, was it about their preparation, although he said it had been unusual. This, he insisted, is just the way it is, a condition of competition. “Twenty-four hours before, or 48 or 72, you get a little edgy,” Del Bosque said. “I get nervous, even if it doesn’t look like it.”
He was right: it did not. For all the problems Del Bosque has faced, there was barely a twitch of the moustache. It was that time again, one he and his players have come to know well. It has tended to go well, too: 2014 was disastrous, it is true, Spain falling at the Maracanã, that graveyard of great expectations, but the Uefa official who introduced them to the audience at the Stadium de Toulouse, announced: “It is a great honour; we have the title holder here … which, as you all know, is Spain.”
They knew but it was perhaps worth a reminder. Failure in Brazil hangs heavy, a memory that feels more present than Kiev, Johannesburg or Vienna. There is not that sense of certainty there once was although Del Bosque, asked what gave him confidence, said: “Ability and experience.” There is plenty of that. No squad has as many caps – just short of a thousand – and four of their likely starters began the 2008 final. Few have such talent and no other can become triple European champions.
Spain will have to overcome difficulties if they are to do so, though. Success feels a little distant and the problems are there, the latest of them unexpected and its impact huge. When De Gea was named in connection to a sexual assault case on Friday he was in his hotel room playing on a games console. “I am a calm person,” he said, but the activity was suddenly frenetic at Spain’s previously tranquil training camp, uncertainty unleashed.
Some reports jumped the gun and said he was coming home. That was never a possibility but there were conversations with family, lawyers, representatives and the federation. Eventually it was decided that De Gea would give a brief press conference. Sergio Ramos offered to join him, as did Gerard Piqué. He went alone but Piqué and Jordi Alba stood with staff in a doorway stage left, a show of support.
“It was not nice news and when something affects a team-mate he always has the support of the group,” Ramos said, but the defender stopped short of suggesting this might actually make Spain stronger the way that controversy preceded two Italian World Cups, say. “Maybe when there’s a problem the group has to be stronger but I’m largely indifferent,” he said.
“It’s all lies, false,” De Gea had said of the allegations. “And that’s it,” he had added. And that is it: left behind, not to be talked about any more, the focus on football. Which is not to say the subject would not be raised but it would be quickly pushed aside. “David has spoken, so we’re not going to comment,” Ramos said.
The doubt in everyone’s minds remained, though: how would this affect the goalkeeper? Del Bosque said it was something he must evaluate. “If we see that it affects him, we will act; if not, we will do what we were going to do, no problem,” he said.
What he was going to do was already up for debate, going back years now, although his answer appeared to confirm what had become assumed: that De Gea would at last start in preference to Iker Casillas, the country’s No1 since 2000. Now that debate returns.
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