Carlos reigns in Spain
Deportivo La Coruña's elegant playmaker Juan Carlos Valerón
is sure to be one of the key figures in Spain's EURO 2004
campaign. As such, he is aware that Group A rivals Portugal,
Greece and Russia will be out to make it an uncomfortable
summer for Iñaki Sáez's side.
29 January 2004
only will they have to overcome hosts Portugal in front of a
partisan crowd, but they have memories of finishing below
Greece in qualifying Group 6. It was a 1-0 defeat by the
Greeks in Zaragoza that forced Spain to meet, and beat, Norway
in a November play-off. Russia, meanwhile, "are also
capable of making life difficult for us", according to
The 28-year-old told: "We know we are going to be facing
some difficult rivals, in particular Portugal. But having said
that, we know we have a good team - a great set of players
with experience of playing at the highest level in
competitions such as this. We have belief in our own
capabilities and are quietly confident we will get through the
Valerón's international career dates back to a 2-2 draw with
Italy 18 November 1998, when he was still a Atlético Madrid
player. Thirty-six caps later, the midfielder is regarded as
one of his country's top players, noted for his excellent
vision and precisely threaded passes that bisect opposition
defences to leave strikers Raúl González or Fernando Torres
through on goal. In short, Valerón is Spain's master of the
Ironically, it was Spain coach Sáez who first spotted him as
a youngster in his native Las Palmas. Sáez helped Las Palmas
sign the 16-year-old Valerón and later, when he was
overseeing the Spanish Under-21 side, he called up the
midfielder. According to the trainer, Valerón is
"educated and talented, a thoroughbred player and a vital
cog in the side".
He fits perfectly into Sáez's 4-4-1-1 system, playing a
supporting role for the front runners. But how does he see his
own place in the national team? "As far as Spain goes, I
am very happy with how things have gone for me so far,"
he explained. "Whether I am playing for Deportivo or
Spain, I always try and help the team as best I can. In
Portugal, I will be doing just that, providing I get the
chance to play, and if not I will be giving my team-mates as
much encouragement as I can."
Spain have scheduled three friendlies for the build-up to the
finals - their only trial runs before EURO 2004 kicks off on
12 June. The first match, against Peru on 18 February, will be
followed by a game against Denmark in Seville on 31 March. The
real test, though, comes on 28 April when Spain will play
Italy in Florence.
"It will be good preparation for us," Valerón said.
"We hope that the pre-tournament friendlies will serve to
fine-tune the team and iron out any weaknesses we might have.
Obviously playing important sides like Italy can only benefit
us as we get ready for the championship." -
By Andy Hall