By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) - The shadow of their disappointing 2014 World Cup campaign still hangs over Spain as they prepare to defend their European Championship crown in France next month, according to coach Vicente del Bosque.
Although they finished top of their qualifying group for Euro 2016, Spain failed to sparkle against relatively weak opposition and have won just two out of seven friendlies since the World Cup.
“The origin of everything is Brazil and that disappointment,” Del Bosque said in an interview with international news agencies.
“But if you isolate that and look at our qualifying campaign, we lost one game and won nine. Then we had games with tough sides and although we lost to Holland, we beat England, and when we’ve lost it’s been by the minimum, we’ve been very close."
Despite the failings in Brazil, where Spain’s record run of three successive tournament wins came to an abrupt halt as a 5-1 thrashing by the Netherlands and a 2-0 defeat to Chile sent them packing at the group stage, Del Bosque has overseen only a partial process of renewal.
While Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez and David Villa have retired from international soccer and Fernando Torres has been phased out, the core of the squad remains, including Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and Andres Iniesta, ever present figures from the Euro 2008 triumph.
The starting 11 Del Bosque will pick for Spain’s first game in France against the Czech Republic on June 13 is by no means certain, especially when it comes to choosing a center forward.
Del Bosque has a wealth of options in Paco Alcacer, Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz and Diego Costa, although the Chelsea striker’s continued presence in the squad has attracted criticism, not just for his disappointing displays which have yielded only one goal in 10 appearances.
Costa was charged with misconduct by the FA after being sent off in March for clashing with Everton’s Gareth Barry but Del Bosque said he had never had any doubts about the striker.
“Diego can be judged on whether he plays well or not but he hasn’t committed any crime, his conduct with us has always been correct,” he said.
“There have been some episodes which haven’t been edifying but he has always shown a great attitude with us and we appreciate that."
Spain also face Turkey and Croatia in Group D of the tournament.
Del Bosque must also confront the question of his goalkeeper and whether he starts captain Iker Casillas, who has endured an error-ridden campaign with FC Porto, or David de Gea, recently named Manchester United’s player of the season for the third successive year.
“There are questions to answer in every position and we have firm criteria but we also need to be a bit flexible," he said. "Seasons often end up putting things in their place and there’s still time left. We’re in a permanent debate.”
Del Bosque justified his faith in Casillas and Ramos by emphasizing the importance of having a balanced squad of experienced hands and hungry youngsters.
“I really believe in the veterans who have spent a long time with us and we trust the newcomers who give the squad an impulse and fresh blood," he said.
"Our objective is to think further than the two European Championships we’ve won because people are only going to value what we do in the next one.
“For some it will be their last big tournament and for others the first and to get that mix you can't look back nor forward. We have to live in the immediate present.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)