Spain coach Vicente del Bosque insists La Roja must aim for a historic third straight European Championship win despite their embarrassing exit as holders at the World Cup two years ago.
Del Bosque’s men became the first side to retain the Euro title in Poland and Ukraine four years ago, but spectacularly crashed out after just two games at the World Cup after thrashings by the Netherlands and Chile.
The former Real Madrid boss resisted calls for his resignation to continue on for what is expected to be his swansong as coach.
However, he refused to dampen expectations after another season of dominance by Spanish clubs in Europe.
“We shouldn’t set any limits,” Del Bosque said in an interview with AFP. “We can’t say if we get to the semi-finals we will be happy, we need to aspire to win it.
“This is sport and we don’t know how far we’ll go, but we need to maintain the dream to fight for a third consecutive Euro title.”
Del Bosque has sought to learn lessons from the World Cup with 10 new faces among his 23-man squad after critics said he had favoured those from Spain’s glory years over youth.
Loyal to lieutenants
Yet, five survivors remain from the start of Spain’s reign of three consecutive major tournament wins at Euro 2008 in captain Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva.
Del Bosque’s biggest call ahead of Spain’s opening game against the Czech Republic on June 13 is whether to drop 167-cap Casillas in favour of Manchester United’s David de Gea.
The two shared goalkeeping duties during qualifying, but De Gea has been in far better form at club level over the past two seasons as he has won United’s Player of the Year.
By contrast, Casillas’s first season at Porto in Portugual, after finally ending his 19-year career at Real Madrid, has been dominated by high-profile errors.
Casillas was one of those most at fault at the World Cup, but also played a vital role in each of Spain’s recent tournament triumphs and Del Bosque defended one of his most loyal charges.
“What he has done is extraordinary. Whoever doesn’t recognise that is being malicious,” he added.
“All the history he created in his club, what he has done for the national team, I think that is recognised all over the world.”
Spain face one of the toughest groups in the tournament in France as they also take on Turkey and Croatia in Group D.
However, a new 24-team format means just eight sides will be eliminated at the group stages.
And Del Bosque expects an open tournament with more than eight teams capable of winning the title in Paris on July 10.
“There are very good teams, the number of sides that can aspire to the title has grown.
“We can’t speak of just six or eight teams, but even more teams that have a chance for sure.”
He reserved special praise for France and in particular coach Didier Deschamps, who was captain when Les Bleus won the last tournament they hosted at World Cup 1998.
“Naturally in France when you look at the strikers they have, the number of midfielders, they are one of the favourites.
“They have players in midfield with extraordinary potential and a sensible coach. He is doing a great job.”
Del Bosque, 65, was more coy over his own future.
Arguably the most decorated coach in the game with two Champions League titles, a World Cup and a Euro title to his name, speculation has grown in recent months that he will step aside at the end of the tournament.
Yet, the humble nature which has fostered his ability to get the best of Real Madrid’s Galacticos in the early 2000s and Spain’s stars later shone through as he shrugged off the magnitude of his achievements.
“It is not something we are worried about right now. It is far less important and the most important thing is the European Championship and having a good tournament.
“I am a football coach, if you have better players you are better. If we have good players then normally the coach is better.”