David Villa insists Spain will not be haunted by past ghosts when they face world champions Italy in the last Euro 2008 quarter-final in Vienna on Sunday.
Spain are on a nine-match winning streak and unbeaten in 19 games overall, but while recent form would suggest they are favourites heading into the Italy clash, history and past performances indicate otherwise.
Despite often looking formidable during qualifying for major tournaments, the Spanish have earned an unwelcome reputation as being a team of chokers on the biggest stages – particularly in quarter-finals.
Only once have Spain managed to get beyond the last eight in World Cups, while in 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.
Those are not the only statistics and quirks of fate that appear to be against the Iberian nation either.
The date of June 22 – Sunday’s date – has also not been kind to the Spanish, 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.
As well as all that, 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.
However, Villa is adamant that will all mean little when they take to the field at the Ernst Happel Stadion on Sunday.
“All that is not going to help Italy nor is it going to damage us, all that is past,” said the Valencia striker.
“History is not against us but perhaps favours Italy slightly, but tomorrow is a completely new match.
“If they (Italy) want to beat us they have to play better than us. We are not thinking of the past, we have our thoughts focused on beating them.
“Tomorrow we are going to play 90 minutes and the winner will go through to the next round and until the first ball is kicked, nothing that has happened before will have any relevance.”
Villa also played down talk of revenge for what happened in the 1994 World Cup, when Italy knocked Spain out at the quarter-final stage in a match where Luis Enrique had his nose broken by the elbow of Italian defender Mauro Tassotti late on in the match.
That happened inside the area but no penalty was given and Spain ultimately tumbled out 2-1, with Tassotti subsequently given an eight-match ban.
That incident has been well-publicised in the Spanish media in the build-up to Sunday’s match, but Villa insists that talk of wanting vengeance this weekend is wide of the mark.
“Luis Enrique suffered in that match in the United States as did the whole country, not just because we lost but because we saw his image with a broken nose, but there is no revenge,” said Villa, who is currently the leading scorer at Euro 2008 with four goals.
“What we want is to win and to be in the semi-finals, and to carry on in this European Championship. We have a lot of hope for the tournament.”
Spain coach Luis Aragones rested 10 of his starters from the opening two games for Wednesday’s final group match against Greece, but he is poised to draft all of them back in for the Italy match.
The veteran coach, who is stepping down after the tournament, feels his team are in a positive frame of mind for the game.
“The team are convinced (they can win), they will play 110%. We have to have positive thinking and the team has that. I know that if the team has to ‘die’ on the field, they will,” he said.
While Spain should be able to select their first XI, Italy coach Donadoni will be without centre-back Fabio Cannavaro, who picked up an ankle injury days before the start of the tournament, plus suspended midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo.
Aragones is not putting much stock in their absences though, saying: “They are three important players for Italy, but for us they are still a competitive team, a good team and they have other good players to come in in place of them.”