Grateful Mean

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On edge and written off, Spain can take inspiration from Chelsea according to the man who lifted the club’s second European Cup last month.

After two draws in their opening two games at Euro 2020, leaving them third in Group E, Spain must defeat Slovakia to get through. Pessimism has taken hold among fans, who whistled the team after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Poland in Sevilla. But César Azpilicueta says his experiences this season have shown there remains a way back for the national team.

“We’re not in the situation we expected to be in, that’s a reality. But it’s in our hands, we depend on ourselves, and it’s like a knockout tie already: do or die,” the Chelsea captain said. “I experienced this last season. In January things weren’t good and no one expected anything from us; they thought we were dead. But it’s not how it starts, it’s how it ends.”

Azpilicueta has not yet played for Spain at these finals but he was chosen to speak to the press on Monday, increasing suggestions that he could be called in against Slovakia. There was also something about his appearance that contrasted with some of the comments made by some teammates, a clarity, leadership and self-awareness absent so far. He refused to demand anything from fans and did not hide the fact that Spain’s situation is a bad one – “That’s a reality,” he said – but he insisted their tournament is not over.

Asked if Spain’s draws were simply the reflection of their limitations now, if this team were good enough to be considered among the favourites, Azpilicueta replied: “We have to prove that.”

The defender said: “The lesson from Chelsea was never give up. No one thought we would do anything; we were dead, we wouldn’t get in the top four in the Premier League. You learn that you have to fight until the end.

“It’s normal that the fans are … I don’t know what the word is, but this is not what they wanted. It’s normal that no one is jumping up and down, happy, saying: ‘Wow, we’re going to win the Euros.’ We have to take this opportunity now; it’s a unique chance to play a competition in your own country and if we do what we have to then we can come through. I hope that by the end of Wednesday we have found a union.

“The situation is not what we hoped it would be but you can’t just say: ‘Well, we didn’t win the first two games, that’s us finished.’ No, you have to fight to the end and all pull in the same direction. And now we have a clear objective before us. It’s important that we have the right mentality because Wednesday is life or death and we have to approach it like that. If we win, we’re in the last 16 and then a new challenge begins.”