Spain’s success in international soccer competitions has denied its top players the chance of a vacation while some of their peers hit the beach for a rest.
With the majority of Europe’s leagues on their summer break, Andres Iniesta and his World and European-champion teammates are playing in their sixth international tournament since 2008 at the Confederations Cup in Brazil. They face Tahiti today in their second match in four days.
“It’s difficult to be constantly at the highest level,” Barcelona midfielder Iniesta, who’s played 52 games for club and country this season, told reporters on the eve of the match in Rio de Janeiro. “That’s why we train and take care of ourselves. We have this passion to be on the pitch.”
Since ending a 44-year wait for an international trophy by winning the 2008 European Championship, Spain has played in international competitions every year with the exception of 2011. It won its first World Cup in 2010 and last year successfully defended its European title.
Iniesta, 29, has been at the center of the national team’s recent success, including scoring the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final. He’s also faced extended club seasons at Barcelona, which has won two European Champions League titles since 2009 and twice reached the semifinals.
While Spain’s players seek the only international soccer title to elude the nation in Brazil, rivals including Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo have been pictured resting up before the new season officially begins in August.
Most of Iniesta’s teammates play for Europe’s biggest clubs, meaning longer domestic campaigns. Midfielder Javier Martinez was part of the Bayern Munich team that won every competition it played last season including the Champions League. Juan Mata made 68 appearances for England’s Chelsea in 2012-13 as the Blues won the second-tier Europa League.
Mata, 25, said winning titles helps keep fatigue at bay.
“It’s tough physically,” he said. “It was a tough and long season for us, but at the end we won a trophy, so it was good. And I really love to play with my national team, so the only thing I can do is just train and look forward to playing.”
Players at the Confederations Cup, an eight-nation warm-up event for the World Cup, will get extended leave before they’re expected to report for club duty. Many will meet up with their squads on pre-season overseas tours, where leading European teams try to boost their revenue by playing exhibition games in countries as far away as Australia, the U.S. and Indonesia.
“We don’t just play for ourselves, we play for many people who admire us,” said Iniesta.
Spain is the No. 1 team in governing body FIFA’s world rankings, while today’s opponent Tahiti is 138th of 207 nations. The Pacific Islanders, who qualified by winning the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup, were routed 6-1 by Nigeria in its opening game.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, whose team beat Uruguay 2-1 in its Confederations Cup opener on June 16, said that he’ll give some fringe players a start against a Tahiti squad featuring only one professional.
“We have one change in goal and some changes in the rest of the team,” he said. “We have 23 outstanding players who are constantly playing for their teams, and perhaps it’s a chance for those who don’t play that much for the national side.”
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