LONDON (AFP) – Spain coach Vicente del Bosque insists England don’t deserve to be written off as Euro 2012 also-rans because they remain a leading force on the international scene.
Del Bosque brings his Spain stars to Wembley on Saturday for a glamour friendly that is likely to give England a painful reminder of how far they have fallen behind the reigning world and European champions.
While Spain swept through their qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 with eight wins from eight matches, England limped over the line in far less convincing fashion.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and company will travel to Poland and Ukraine next year as firm favourites to retain the European crown, while Fabio Capello’s England have already been dismissed as no-hopers.
However, Del Bosque claims the criticism of Capello and his players is too harsh. The former Real Madrid boss is impressed by England’s squad and says the gap in class between the sides is not as wide as some believe.
“I think maybe the English are being a little too modest about themselves. They have a great national team, with pace and power,” Del Bosque said on Friday.
“It will be a big challenge as ever playing against a good England side.
“It is true to say we are enjoying a good period of form and success in Spain but I wouldn’t say the differences (between the teams) are that large.”
Del Bosque may well have been taking the diplomatic approach as he was on English soil, but even though Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere are ruled out, with captain John Terry also unlikely to play following the storm over his alleged racist abuse of QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, the Spain boss still expects a tough test.
“Whoever England line up with, whether it is an experimental side that Fabio puts out, we have nothing but good feelings about Fabio in Spain,” Del Bosque added.
“He will pick the right side and it will be a strong side whether Rooney is playing or not.”
Del Bosque’s respect for English football culture is clear to see and he believes a key factor in Spain’s dominance in recent years has been the presence of Spanish stars in the Premier League.
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Jose Reina have all developed into world-class talents in England and del Bosque said: “It’s been vital that we have had such a crop of players who have played in the Premier League and who have played in England at such a young age.
“It’s one of the main factors I always say to people that has helped us have so much success.
“Having players in so many different countries has been very important. It helped us shed that complex we always used to have playing at international level.”
Spain have won their last three meetings with England, with the most recent of those victories coming in Seville in 2009, but this is their first visit to Wembley since the 1996 European Championships.
Several of Spain’s stars helped Barcelona win the Champions League final against Manchester United at the English national stadium in May however and del Bosque would love to put on a display to match that dazzling exhibition.
“I had the chance to experience Wembley a few months ago at the Champions League final. It was a fantastic occasion and a great stadium,” he said.
“It is nice when you get the chance to manage a team or play at a venue like this. Lets hope we can provide a performance that is equal to this venue.
“But it doesn’t matter whether they are playing in Bilbao, at the Bernabeu or Wembley, I think my players will show the same level of motivation they always do.
“The big aim of the squad was to not be carried away by the victory at the World Cup and to carry on in the way thay brought them success. I think we’ve managed to do that apart from a couple of black marks in friendlies.”