Pain in the grass: Barcelona whining will do Spain no favours

Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas all complained about the playing surface following La Roja's 1-1 draw with Italy - but Vicente del Bosque's side have more pressing problems
 Ben Hayward
 Spain Expert Follow on


It was a 'disaster', they said. Not the result, not the defending, nor the decision to field Fabregas as a false nine. No, Spain's midfield maestros were moaning about the pitch. And it wasn't the first time.

Vicente del Bosque's side had flattered to deceive in Sunday night's Euro 2012 meeting with Italy in Group C and only looked the better team late on in the 1-1 draw as the Azzurri were stretched by the pace of a more orthodox striker in Fernando Torres, and the width provided by winger Jesus Navas. Self-assessment was called for, but only criticism came.

"I can't complain," Cesc commented. But he did anyway. "We deserved much more. It's shameful that we still have to play on pitches like that," the 25-year-old added after a game in which he had struggled but scored his sole opportunity of note to cancel out Antonio Di Natale's 59th-minute opener.

And his Barca team-mate Andres Iniesta was even more scathing in his evaluation of the playing surface. "Seeing the pitch in those conditions is a disaster," the mild-mannered midfielder mused. "It was incredibly dry and that makes circulation of the ball difficult."
In a recent interview with, former Almeria coach, friend and mentor of Pep Guardiola, Juanma Lillo, explained the significance of the playing surface to a team like Spain.

"The pitch is extremely important, not decisive because there is nothing decisive in life, but important nonetheless," he said.

"The pitch is always a factor, for everyone, but for a team that likes to get the ball on the floor and play it fast to find players in attacking positions it becomes essential."

Xavi agreed: "The fact that they didn't water the pitch persecuted our dynamic and fluid play," he added. And even Barca captain Carles Puyol, laid low with a knee injury but watching the game on television, weighed in as he wrote on Twitter: "If they water the pitch you'll see better football."

Barca have complained before, on numerous occasions in fact, notably following a goalless game at San Siro against AC Milan in the Champions League earlier this season. Then the pitch was too wet; on Sunday it was too dry.

The Catalans' constant complaints did little for their self-belief or their cause as other sides soon learned how little they enjoyed playing on non-perfect pitches. With Barcelona, however, there was always the chance to take teams back to a well-watered Camp Nou and play at least half the time on a favourable field.

But there is no such luxury for Del Bosque's men at Euro 2012. The continental competition sees 16 sides do battle on neutral ground and while Spain prefer a smooth and slippery surface, other teams may not. So why should the hosts or the tournament organisers pander to the capricious champions?

They should not. Equally, however, there is no need for Del Bosque's men to complain. Although stripped of striker David Villa and defender Puyol through injury, Spain's squad still boast the best at Euro 2012 and La Roja's hopes rest on their pedigree players - not on the state of the pitch.

After Spain lost to Switzerland in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, the players got together, aired their views and worked on their weaknesses before stringing six successive victories together to claim the trophy in South Africa.

Similar self-assessment is now needed if an unprecedented third international title in a row is to be claimed. But there are issues to be addressed, namely the defence, the balance in midfield and the central striker position.

So the Barcelona brigade would do well to stop the whining and scratch below the surface - because that's where the real problems lie.

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