Spain players criticized after ignoring fans at Euro 2020

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SEVILLE, Spain (AP) — Spain's national soccer team has faced criticism for its performances at the European Championship, and now the players have to defend themselves from accusations that they snubbed their own fans.

A video of players ignoring supporters in Seville has put the squad in a tough spot ahead of its final group match against Slovakia on Wednesday. Only a victory will be enough to secure the team a spot in the next round at Euro 2020.

The video was posted by Spain’s national team on its Twitter account. It was shot by the Spanish soccer federation as the squad left its hotel ahead of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Poland. Spain had opened with a 0-0 draw with Sweden and is in danger of not advancing past the group stage.

In the short video, several dozen fans are seen outside the hotel as players make their way to the bus that will take them to the nearby La Cartuja Stadium. The crowd, which includes many youngsters and children, is waving Spanish flags, applauding, cheering and loudly chanting some of the players’ names.

But as the squad goes from the hotel to the bus, many players are indifferent to the crowd. Most don’t even look to acknowledge them and some go by while looking at their phones. Only a couple of players are seen saluting the fans, including Jordi Alba, who was named the team’s captain while Sergio Busquets was away because of the coronavirus.

Spanish media said the other players who saluted fans were José Luis Gayà and Aymeric Laporte, who is debuting with Spain's national team after playing with France's youth squads.

César Azpilicueta, one of Spain’s most veteran players, tried to defend the squad on Monday. He acknowledged that “not all the players were saluting the fans at that time,” but said the national team has tried to be as close as possible to the fans. He blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the less-than-perfect relationship between players and fans at the moment.

“We are the first ones who want be closer to the fans, to be signing autographs and taking photos with them,” he said. “But unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 situation, we can’t do these types of things. It’s in these difficult moments that we miss the fans the most.”

A draw or a loss against Slovakia in its final Group E match could mean elimination for Spain as it would depend on other results to advance to the next stage. It would be an embarrassing setback for “La Roja,” which is playing its group matches at home at Euro 2020.

Some players and coach Luis Enrique had complained that parts of the crowd booed the team at the La Cartuja in its opener against Sweden. They also complained of the poor field conditions at the stadium, saying it hurt the team’s ball-possession style.

Azpilicueta said it’s up to the squad to bring the fans back on side by playing well and showing a good attitude on the field.

“We have to give the fans a little push,” he said. “We need their support, but we are the ones who need to give them some reason to support us.”

Azpilicueta has yet to play for Spain at Euro 2020, with Luis Enrique preferring to use Marcos Llorente in the right back position.

“We have the coach and his staff to makes these decisions,” Azpilicueta said. “I’m being supportive from the bench. Marcos had a spectacular season and he is in great form.”

The Chelsea defender said the team was looking at the match against Slovakia as a “knockout game,” and that the entire squad was optimistic of advancing despite the poor start.

“What matters is how you finish, not how you start,” Azpilicueta said. “We have a final in front of us, and then after that we'll go step by step.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press

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