CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — Spain's World Cup squad is trying to stay upbeat in its last days in Brazil after reports that players were upset with Xabi Alonso for his unrepentant critique of the 2010 world champions.
Alonso said Spain lacked hunger and commitment to win following defeats to the Netherlands and Chile, and suggested changes were necessary. "There's a lot of talk about this but we're a group that is united and Xabi Alonso is part of that," midfielder Santi Cazorla said Friday at the team's training base.
"I don't think there is a lack of hunger or ambition in this team. These things happen. We all need to learn from this." Coach Vicente del Bosque had a conversation with Alonso during training on Friday but would not reveal the nature of their discussion.
"There can always be a small problem, just like you might find in a family. But its substance comes down to football," Del Bosque said. "It's normal for small things to emerge during a long camp together."
Questions are swirling around about the team's future, with Del Bosque's tenure also under scrutiny after the No. 1-ranked Spain, which entered the tournament as the world and European champion, lost its opening matches by a combined total of 7-1. Spain's last Group match is against winless Australia at Curitiba on Monday.
Despite public backing from the federation and the players, Del Bosque on Friday said he would leave his post after the World Cup if it was best for Spain. "Vicente has total support from this group," Cazorla said. "I think the future is bright for Spain, there are a lot of young players ready to come through."
One of those is midfielder Koke, who is expected to play against Australia after he replaced Alonso in the 2-0 loss to Chile. "There is a new generation coming, in football there are always changes. But I feel like I'm just one more player in this group," the 22-year-old Koke said. "It's difficult to think the youngsters will be able to match this team and its history. We'll do our best."
Alongside Koke, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata look set to start on Monday, while defenders Raul Albiol and Juanfran Torres could also play for the first time in Brazil. Goalkeeper Pepe Reina looked determined to get the starting nod in training after captain Iker Casillas endured two of his worst games for Spain. Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea did not train with the team on Friday as he recovers from a leg injury.
Spain is last in Group B with a minus-6 goal difference, while Australia is third after losing to the Dutch 3-2 following a 3-1 defeat by Chile. A defeat against Australia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament at No. 62, would provide the ultimate humiliation for Spain after its run of three straight major tournament victories ended.
"We're professionals and we have to work, prepare for our last game," Koke said. "We need to relay a certain image, and remember that we're Spain."
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