Andres Iniesta has voiced fears that Spain’s achievements have resulted in the Spanish media and public having unrealistic expectations of them.
The Barcelona midfielder was responding to criticism of the team after their laboured 1-0 victory against Croatia – a victory that nevertheless saw the defending champions and World Cup winners top Group C.
Vicente del Bosque’s side, who needed a late Jesus Navas strike to see off the Croats, also scored the most goals during the group phase and conceded the fewest.
And Iniesta told El Pais: “I would like a little more balance in the evaluation. We haven't won all the games 5-0 - but what were they expecting? We were highly competitive, and in the three games we were better and deserved to win.
“I would swear we have won the confidence of many people and the respect of the opponents - but not of all Spaniards, it would appear.”
He said he was at a loss to understand criticism of Del Bosque from some quarters, and stressed that the circumstances of the Croatia game – an evening on which Spain could have gone out of the competition – were the main reason for the below-par display.
“The criticism of Del Bosque hurts because it is unjust. He defends a style that has made us champions and this isn't censurable,” he said. “He can pick this player or that player, but the idea of the game is always the same.
“We can't play another way because we don't know how. With this style, we won the European Championship and the World Cup. I don't know how so many doubts over the team can come now.
“The Croatia game was difficult to play because you had to be aware of the score. We couldn't go crazy for the win and let in a stupid goal.”