Spain vs England: Birth of a new era for the champions

After an unblemished European Championship qualifying campaign, Spain sees Saturday's friendly against England as the time to stop reflecting on recent successes.

Updated: November 11, 2011 17:57 IST
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London: After an unblemished European Championship qualifying campaign, Spain sees Saturday's friendly against England as the time to stop reflecting on recent successes.

The world and European champions on Thursday modeled the kit they will be using at Euro 2012 next year under the banner: "The Past Means Nothing. Everything Starts Again."

Banishing any complacency is vital for a nation that was one of world football's biggest underachievers before ending a 44-year title drought at Euro 2008.

Now the Spanish aim to do what no other team has done before: defend a European title after a World Cup triumph.

"We're conscious that no one has been able to achieve this," midfielder Xavi Hernandez said at the kit launch in Madrid. "We want to go down in world football history."

But while qualifying for Poland and Ukraine presented few problems, Spain's only test against a major European side this year ended in a 2-1 loss at Italy.

Playing at Wembley Stadium on Saturday should bring back happy memories of overcoming English opposition six months ago for Spain's Barcelona contingent.

David Villa scored Barcelona's third goal in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United to win the Champions League in May.

"I don't know if it was the nicest but it was the most important of my career," Villa said Thursday.

Before drawing a line in the past, however, Spain took the time Thursday to honor a trio of players who have passed the 100-cap mark: Xavi, Andoni Zubizarreta and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Casillas will match retired goalkeeper Zubizarreta's record 126 Spain appearances by playing against England.

"I never imagined reaching this moment now," the Real Madrid keeper said.

Casillas will not have to face England's most potent attacking threat on Saturday, with Wayne Rooney dropped by coach Fabio Capello.

Despite the Football Association fighting UEFA over Rooney's three-match Euro 2012 ban for kicking an opponent in the last qualifier, Capello wants to look at other striking options against Spain.

Capello is also without his most dynamic influences in midfield, with Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere sidelined with injuries.

Off-field issues have also overshadowed England's preparations.

Captain John Terry's place in the squad remains a contentious issue during a police investigation into racism allegations. Capello plans to rest Terry on Saturday despite a shortage of center backs.

Capello's bosses at the FA have also spent the week in dispute with FIFA over whether England's kit can feature poppies to honor Britain's war dead. A compromise was reached on Wednesday that allows the players to don black armbands featuring a poppy.

"I've been around this England squad for a while now, and seen some adverse situations," goalkeeper Joe Hart said.

"It's not just what's on the field but off field that makes (football) so interesting," he added. "You've just got to get on with it ... and shut it out."

The prospect of any tensions over Terry's place in the squad were alleviated by the absence of Rio Ferdinand, whose brother Anton was the target of Terry's alleged racist abuse during Chelsea's match at Queens Park Rangers last month.

The friendly will give midfielder Cesc Fabregas and winger Jesus Navas a chance to re-establish themselves in Vicente del Bosque's Spain plans following injuries.

Navas, filling in for the injured Pedro Rodriguez, has not played for Spain since winning the World Cup in South Africa.

"I want to take advantage of this opportunity," the Sevilla player said. "I will fight to be in the final squad for the European Championship. It is very important to play well and we players must work hard to be there. I've had the opportunity to return to the national side and I'll make the most of it."

Malaga defender Nacho Monreal is also looking to seize his opportunity.

"It has been unexpected," he said. "Whenever we come here we try to help as much as possible, to win the confidence of the coach and do well, and hopefully we can be there at the tournament. You have to go out to enjoy it, but also be aware that there is a big responsibility."

Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez will not travel to London after picking up a muscle injury during a training session on Thursday.

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