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Del Bosque, Iniesta round on critics

Squad unites to dismiss criticism of Croatia display

ESPN staff

Vicente Del Bosque: Sticking to his guns© AP Images

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque and midfielder Andres Iniesta have played down criticism of their insipid 1-0 victory over Croatia, insisting the world and European champions get better the longer major tournaments go on.

The holders were far from their fluent best and were grateful to goalkeeper Iker Casillas for making some key saves as they flirted with going out of the competition in Gdansk.

An 88th minute Jesus Navas goal handed them victory and secured top spot in Group C but their lacklustre performance drew criticism from their fans and the media.

But Iniesta told Spanish paper Marca: "All the criticism is valid as long as it is constructive. Everyone has their own way of looking at things.

"When we don't like what we have seen we don't think it is correct, but I would say to the fans to be calm and to believe in the team no matter who plays because every team has its difficult moments.

"Yesterday we had ours because we are not an exception. It is true we would have liked to have won 2-0 or 3-0 but it wasn't like this. Iker (Casillas) put in a fantastic performance. We respect the fans and what they think but I would say the team is fine and we remain in the fight.

"Before the start of the Euros we said that to win again would be the most difficult target yet. The opponent can also play. Croatia is a great team and they have players of a very high level that want to beat the world champions.

"In two years' time it will be even more difficult still. This is part of the goal, to win what we have already but with more difficulty.''

Iniesta did cite tiredness as a factor with many of their players involved in long and gruelling domestic campaigns for their clubs, but he also suggested that Spain would be content if the Croatia clash represented their poorest performance of Euro 2012.

He added: "We had phases of everything - good moments with the ball where we could dominate but also moments of doubt. A little of that was as a result of how the game was evolving. It is not easy to play when you know that a draw is enough but a goal for them will put you out.

"It is also the third game and the demands of the competition wears you down, but I would like to think that in this competition this was the game in which we have suffered most and now it has passed.

“It is not easy to play when you know that a draw is enough but a goal for them will put you out.” Andres Iniesta on Spain's display against Croatia

"We have enough days ahead of Saturday and the Spanish national team always gets stronger as these tournaments go on. I have confidence that will be the case this time too.''

Del Bosque suggested there had been an overreaction to the match and again was forced to defend his decision to substitute Fernando Torres in order to operate without a natural striker for the final portion of the game.

"I watched the game again last night," Spanish paper AS. Everyone who has analysed it said we struggled a lot but I realised that we didn't do things so badly.

"The threat existed but I think we did things relatively well. It was a horrible game for us. The talk of fixes and pacts and that a draw suited us made it a very difficult game.

"I accept you are not in agreement with what I saw. There are distinct opinions. You always have to look at the results. Defensively, there was only Rakitic's chance and a shot from (Darijo) Srna.

"We didn't have penetration but that can happen in football. I think they had more difficulty than us when we had a striker and when we didn't. With Fernando (Torres) and without him there were two separate games, like the day against Italy. The Rakitic effort has left us with this sensation but I wouldn't say Croatia dominated.''

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