By Sid Lowe in Paris/The Guardian
Spain were put out of the European Championship and put in their place, according to Gerard Pique.
In the wake of the 2-0 defeat by Italy that saw them eliminated in the last 16, the defender admitted that the team no longer have the level that made them the world and European champions and called for a “big reflection”. He also said Vicente del Bosque had earned the right to decide whether to continue as coach.
“We have to be realistic, we don’t have the level that we had a couple of years ago when we were champions of Europe and champions of the world,” Pique said.
“We have young players coming through who are very promising, veterans who have to keep on bringing our experience and talent to the team. But the level isn’t the same.
“We have to accept that, be self-critical, face up to these next two years and do all we can to prepare for Russia in better conditions, with a higher level of play.”
Asked why Spain are no longer as good as they were, Pique replied: “I think it’s lots of things, not just the level of the players. I think (there is) the style of football, even though we’re doing the same thing.
“We are not as effective as we were in the way we thought we had to play. It’s a bit of everything. I think we have to undertake a big reflection, both in terms of style and level, and face up to the next two years. Obviously, the first thing is that we have to qualify (for 2018), but we have to raise our level if we want to have a chance of winning big competitions.
“When you get knocked out in the last 16 I don’t think there are many positives you can take from it. But there are players for whom this was their first Euros and they have got some international experience now for the future, which might help them for Russia.
“And maybe the other thing is that this put us in our place, (showing us) that we’re not favourites for the coming competitions. We have a level to be able to compete in games but we have to improve a lot for Russia.
“I said after the (friendly) defeat against Georgia that people thought we were one of the favourites because of our name but right now I don’t think we’re the best national team.
“And I think that was shown (against Italy) and the day of the Croatia game as well: we have very good players but we’re not at a good enough level to win a big competition.”
“We knew we weren’t the favourites, we said that before we started. We wanted to keep on going through rounds and get as far as we could. But the way it fell, we ended up in the hardest side of the draw, the most difficult path, and I think we created a mountain (in our minds), with everything that we had to overcome.”
When it comes to reflection, few have as much to think about as Del Bosque, who had said on the eve of the last 16 that the national team would go on, “with or without me”.
He had previously suggested that he would walk away at the end of the Euros, but the president of the federation, Angel María Villar, has tried to persuade him to stay on. After the defeat by Italy, Del Bosque said that he would “talk to the president and think about it”.
“It’s up to him,” Pique said. “I think he deserves the right to decide. We’ll see what he chooses. He’s a very important person for football in this country.”
Pique’s international teammate Juanfran Torres, meanwhile, has said that he would like Del Bosque to continue and has urged people not to “go mad”. He also dismissed suggestions that some of the senior players might walk away from the national team.
Asked if he would like Del Bosque to continue, Juanfran said: “I would, yes. He has my utmost admiration. We’ll see what decision he takes, he will have to talk to his people, but I only have positive things to say about him.
“We all have the energy (to go on). It is at times like this that you have to be most committed to the national team.
“It’s lovely when you have won a tournament and they call you up for a game a couple of months later and you go there with open arms. But you have to go to the national team when things go badly too.
“I am talking for myself and I hope that my teammates feel the same way. For as long as your legs can hold you up, you go to the Spain squad. It’s the national team that will leave us, not us that leave the national team.”
The right-back added: “After the second game against Turkey (people said) we had the best team in the world and the best players. And now we’ve lost. It’s normal that people want changes—humans are like that.
“It’s a good job that it is not up to people from the outside to take that decision. It is down to the manager who is there, and I hope that’s Del Bosque. I would back the idea of not going mad. It’s a moment to reflect and I am sure that in the future things will go better.”
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