Pedro problems, Croatia loss & Del Bosque criticism - Spain lack unity of Italy camp

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The defending champions were rocked by the defeat in their last group game and morale is not at its highest as they prepare for their last-16 meeting with Antonio Conte's men

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The cracks are beginning to appear. All seemed fine for Spain after back-to-back wins over Czech Repubic and Turkey, but the 2008 and 2012 winners were left stunned by their defeat against Croatia - and it is Italy with the better morale and unity ahead of Monday's meeting in Paris.

Spain were rocked ahead of the tournament by a sex scandal accusing goalkeeper David De Gea. That was all dealt with and forgotten as the Manchester United goalkeeper started in the opener in Toulouse, but the 25-year-old is in the spotlight again now - this time after his poor performance against Croatia.

Coach Vicente del Bosque is unlikely to make a change in that position, with Iker Casillas looking off form in training anyway. But there is the feeling after the Croatia defeat that a huge opportunity was lost and despite claims to the contrary, the mood is not as harmonious as it could be in the Spain camp right now.

Pedro complained about his own situation ahead of the game against the Croats in a selfish show of petulance. "I had a different expectation," the winger said. "It's not what I wanted and I am finding it very difficult. I'm not sure if it is worth coming just to be part of the group." 

Del Bosque described those words as "unfortunate" and added: "I didn't like what Pedro said, but it hasn't affected our play."

It didn't help, either, and the veteran coach has also upset some other players by picking the same side for three matches in a row.

The defeat to Croatia came after Sergio Ramos missed a penalty and Andres Iniesta (Spain's best player in this tournament) later said: "I was going to take the penalty but Ramos asked for it and was confident."

Del Bosque defended his captain and said: "The players did the right thing. Sergio Ramos had the conviction and confidence and he is one of those designated to take them."

Barca left-back Jordi Alba then hit out at the media as he said: "It is you, the journalists creating the bad vibe, not us."

However, the mood in the camp has deteriorated since the loss last week and that is in contrast to the magnificent morale in the Italy squad. The Azzurri were written off ahead of the tournament as many claimed their squad was their worst for many years and full of uninspiring players.

Yet Antonio Conte's side claimed an excellent 2-0 win over much-fancied Belgium and beat Sweden 1-0 to secure top spot in their sector before a 1-0 loss to Republic of Ireland with their second string as they rested first-team players for the last 16.

Conte says Spain are favourites on Monday and he is right. After all, La Roja beat Italy 4-0 in the final of this competition four years ago.

But Del Bosque said on Sunday: "This Italy is different to the one in 2012. That team arrived to the final with less strength and they were also blighted by injuries. We didn't see the true Italy, but we will do against Spain."

Fans of Italy will hope that is true and although Spain are indeed favourites, it is the Azzurri who have the momentum after a better build-up - and that could also play a part at the Stade de France on Monday.

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