When Spanish fans ask how a side that has produced attacking talents such as Raul and Emilio Butragueno and goalkeepers of the caliber of Iker Casillas and Andoni Zubizarreta never win anything, they often end up blaming their Latin cousins Italy.
And with good reason.
The Spanish are past masters of shooting out of the blocks at World Cups and European Championships.
Then around the quarter-finals it usually ends in tears.
The Italians, in contrast start slowly, apparently indifferent as to whether they even make it out of the opening group phase.
They invariably do — and having done so have a habit of then speeding up all the way to the final day of an event — witness four World Cups and one European title, in 1968.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” as Aesop’s fable of the tortoise besting the hare would have it.
Spanish coach Luis Aragones insists that Spain must win the match in their minds as well as on the pitch, where La Furia Roja have only ever captured one trophy — the 1964 European Championship.
They did reach the 1984 final, but lost to France and since then appear to have a quarter-final complex.
“A team that wants to win has to be convinced of its ability to do so and work on achieving that. We will try to ensure they do not hit us on the counterattack,” said the “Wise Man of Hortaleza.”
The Italians came off best in the 1994 World Cup quarters, an ugly affair in which Spanish midfielder Enrique had his nose broken by Mauro Tassotti as Spain lost 2-1.
Italy also won the 1934 World Cup meet at the same stage.
Today’s date, June 22, is additionally particularly inauspicious for Spanish soccer following three exits by the national team in quarter-finals of international competitions on that date.
Spain were eliminated on June 22 in penalty shoot-outs against Belgium in the World Cup in 1986, against England in Euro 1996 and against South Korea at the 2002 World Cup.
As Spain look to win a match that could go a long way to shredding their underachievers tag, Italy defender Christian Panucci believes his side have the mental edge.
“I can understand why the Spanish people don’t want to play against Italy, because in the past it has not been easy for Spain to play against Italy in these big competitions,” he said.