Stars in Europe, subs with Spain
Stars in Europe's top leagues, they're just substitutes with the world champions. It's not easy playing for Spain.
Spain is bidding to win a third straight major title at Euro 2012, and the team faces France on Saturday in the quarterfinals. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is expected to start most of the regulars, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas among them. That again would leave Javi Martinez, Juan Mata and Fernando Llorente on the bench waiting for their opportunity.
And when the opportunity arrives, it's treasured.
"Every one of us knows our role and when our chance comes we just try to be prepared," utility player Javi Martinez said Thursday from Spain's training base in the north of Poland. "Those more than 20 minutes I played against Ireland were a gift I was able to take advantage of."
Martinez, who is reportedly being watched by Bayern Munich and Barcelona because he can play either centre back or in midfield, played 28 minutes in the defending champions' 4-0 drubbing of the Irish. In contrast to the little playing time he gets for Spain, the 23-year-old Martinez made 50 appearances this season to help club team Athletic Bilbao reach two cup finals, including in the Europa League
Mata, a regular starter for Champions League and FA Cup champion Chelsea, hasn't played a single minute at Euro 2012 through three games, while Malaga forward Santi Cazorla - a regular substitute during Spain's Euro 2008 title-winning run - has 13 minutes under his belt.
The biggest surprise has been Llorente's absence, with striker David Villa missing to injury.
Llorente's 29 goals for Athletic were more than the combined number scored this past season by fellow strikers Fernando Torres and Alvaro Negredo - who have both featured at Euro 2012.
"We haven't used everybody and we need to accept that it can't be any other way," Del Bosque said. "I like everyone on this team, Llorente and (Pepe) Reina are no different, but we have to take decisions and use those we think provide the best solution."
Del Bosque's overlooking of Llorente remains somewhat of a mystery, because the 27-year-old striker is training normally without any apparent injury. Fatigue could be a problem, but that hasn't affected the likes of players with similarly long club seasons like Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Sergio Ramos.
"(Llorente) is in good spirits. We all want to play considering the football players we are and Fernando more than most," Martinez said of his Athletic teammate. "He keeps training as best he can to be in the best shape possible."
The unused players on Spain's bench in Poland and Ukraine have won a combined 49 titles in their careers.
"Ever since I joined the national team I've always said that I know what my role is here," said Victor Valdez, who has won 19 trophies as Barcelona's starting goalkeeper, but finds himself behind Spain's most capped player, Iker Casillas. "I've always been professional and I owe that to my teammates and a coach who trusts in me and that's my role for the good of the team."