Spain coach Del Bosque insists dominating era is not over
SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE >> Dethroned at the World Cup and now at the European Championship, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque believes his team can soon reign again.
The evidence of Spain's 2-0 loss on Monday to slick, hard-working Italy in the round of 16 told a different story.
"No, I don't think an era is finished," said Del Bosque, who became coach after the two-time defending champion's first trophy win in 2008. "Spanish football has a great structure.
"We have the style of football to keep going for many years and achieve many things," the 65-year-old coach said through a translator.
An aura that faded with Spain's early exit from the 2014 World Cup was further tarnished at Euro 2016.
Days after losing 2-1 to an injury-hit Croatia side, Spain slumped to back-to-back defeats just like two years ago. Then, it was routed 5-1 by the Netherlands and outplayed 2-0 by Chile in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
There were similarities to that Chilean defeat at Stade de France, where Italy gave a lesson in sharp passing and smart tactics.
"We were a bit timid in the first half, without a lot of confidence, without a lot of determination," Del Bosque acknowledged, though adding: "You can't doubt our good intentions.
"Sometimes the opponent is better, but it's not because we have played without enough hunger," he said.
Critics could point to the fact Del Bosque, coaching Spain for the 113rd time, picked the same starting lineup for the fourth straight match here — one that featured four veterans with more than 100 international appearances.
Del Bosque's loyalty to some players, while leaving young talents on the bench, was a fault at the World Cup.
Still, he was proved right here by picking goalkeeper David De Gea, who made his 13th appearance on Monday, over the 167-times capped Iker Casillas, a captain in the trophy-winning years.
De Gea made three high-quality saves in the first half, and another in the second to limit the score at 1-0 from defender Giorgio Chiellini's 33rd-minute poacher's strike in the goalmouth.
Italy got the result it deserved in second-half stoppage time when Graziano Pelle was unmarked to shoot emphatically past De Gea.
Del Bosque then ambled out of the dugout, hands thrust deep in his pockets. He stopped half way toward the touchline, did not gesture, and did not appear to shout words of encouragement or advice.
At the final whistle, the coach stood in his technical area gazing across the field. Nearby, the Italy substitutes and staff jumped wildly around their coach Antonio Conte, who had been hyperactive all game.
Del Bosque turned in a slow shuffling walk, typical of a long-retired player, and consoled some staff before being first to enter the tunnel leading to the locker rooms.
The 46-year-old Conte — who joins Chelsea when Italy's adventure in France is over — would later point to Spanish clubs' success in winning the Champions League title for the past three years.
"I think Spanish football is in rude health. They have some wonderful players," Conte said through a translator.
Italy had the better team, though, and will face Spain again in October. The two European powers are in the same qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup, and only the group winner is sure to play in Russia.
Del Bosque did not rule out leading that campaign.
"I didn't say 'yes' or 'no'. I said I must speak to the (Spanish federation) president," Del Bosque said. "We must do what is best for Spanish football.
"It's a golden era for Spanish football and it starts again."