Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta talks Champions League glory, return to Spain team ahead of Switzerland showdown at Euro 2020
Chelsea's Champions League-winning captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, has admitted he has not always given as much for Spain as he has for his club ahead of the Euro 2020 quarterfinal clash against Switzerland in Saint Petersburg.
After a stuttering start to the group stage wit draws against Sweden and Poland, Spain pulled off a 5-0 win over Slovakia and won a thriller against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia 5-3 in extra time.
After Croatia scored a surprise early opener when Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon hopelessly failed to control a backpass, Azpilicueta was among the goals as his side fought back to make it 3-1, only to concede twice after the 84th minute, forcing them to play an added 30 minutes in which they scored twice without reply.
Azpilicueta has confessed that his place at the finals felt a distant prospect during a prolonged international exile.
Luis Enrique scored his first goal for Spain at the 1994 World Cup in a crucial last 16 match.César Azpilicueta scores his first goal for Spain at the Euros in a crucial last 16 match.#ESPpic.twitter.com/XH21mZHupO— bet365 (@bet365) June 28, 2021
"You always have that hope," the center-back told Marca of regaining his place. "[But] I'm not going to [try and] fool anyone; it seemed very far away.
"In January, when I was not playing [as much as] what I was used to, it seemed far away to be in the Euros after two years without going to the national team.
"The hope was great, but I did not want to come and experience what I have done in the last tournaments: falling in the group stage or in the last 16. It has been important to take that step and live what we lived in Copenhagen [against the Croatians]."
When it was put to him that his inclusion was a reward for his hard work, Azpi answered: "Work is the only thing in your power. I've always believed it that. When the call-ups didn't come, there was nothing I could do but grit my teeth at Chelsea and wait for it to come.
"I'm honest with myself and I know that many times in the national team I haven't given what I gave [at Chelsea]."
"It is a bit of everything," he answered, when pushed to analyze his Roja redemption.
"When I arrived [in the Spanish national team], I was 23 years old. It was another phase, with players who had won a lot.
"I never held that weight in the national team, although I played the first two games in the World Cup in Brazil. Now I have more hope and experience to rectify that."
The outlet suggested that Azpilicueta and Spain's story "looks like a Netflix series".
"Things have happened from the beginning. Sergio [Busquet's coronavirus] case, Diego [Llorente's] false positive... [there have been] difficult moments," Azpilicueta conceded.
"Sometimes we do not realize the hope we can have for this type of competition and suddenly you see two colleagues [suffering like that]....It is not what you expect, but it makes you want to advance."
"We are Spain and when you don't win there are always criticisms," he said of the public backlash to their form in the opening stages of the tournament.
"We didn't score a goal, but the important thing was that the team generated those chances and the normal thing would have been to score and win the game.
"It was not like that, but if you analyze the matches and see that you do not control the game, that they have a thousand chances, that we are not ourselves, well, that can generate doubts, but it was the opposite case."
🇪🇸 Spain's results at the European Championships🤝 0-0 vs Sweden 🇸🇪🤝 1-1 vs Poland 🇵🇱✅ 5-0 vs Slovakia 🇸🇰✅ 5-3 vs Croatia 🇭🇷They're the first team to score 5 goals in successive matches in the competition's historySuppose they do know how to score goals then 😅 pic.twitter.com/bPXeOulgvV— William Hill (@WilliamHill) June 28, 2021
Azpilicueta came out and spoke after the Poland draw and was reminded that his message "caught on with the fans".
"From my role as captain of Chelsea.. I always try to contribute my maximum, saying what I think.
"If that helped to calm the atmosphere and meant we arrived in better conditions, then objective accomplished."
Azpilicueta confirmed that nobody from Chelsea had personally praised him for his first competitive Spain goal against Croatia, but did confirm that he spoke to Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic before the game – and his fellow Blues midfielder congratulated him on the victory afterwards.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s first goal for Spain came at the right time 💪 pic.twitter.com/8D51TsGSEn— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 28, 2021
"It is football and many times you play against [club] team-mates or against friends," he acknowledged, adding that he had experienced a lack of time to reflect on the Champions League win in Porto against Manchester City that he was part of with Kovacic.
"It passes very fast and there is almost no time to enjoy it," he said. "Everything happens very quickly.
"I'm very proud to see the photos, the videos, to see the excitement of everyone on the field, in the locker room, the families.
"When you have been working all year and you see that hope of the people who work a lot by our side so that we are in the best conditions.
"[To] give that joy to the fans after a year with empty stadiums..." he trailed off.
César Azpilicueta and Roman Abramovich after the Champions League final. 💙“I will bring you the trophy, because it’s yours.” pic.twitter.com/THtQ3JJ32H— LDN (@LDNFootbalI) June 29, 2021
Talking a little about his football-mad daughters Martina and Carlota, Azpilicueta was asked what he thought about the death threats sent to Spain's previously misfiring Alvaro Morata – a former Chelsea team-mate – and his loved ones
"Sometimes we live with that negativity," he said. "And as people, we need to stop for five seconds and think that we can generate [sadness in] that person and see that you would not like them to do it to you.
"Footballers know that we are public people and that everything we do on the pitch – if we don't score, if we fail – we receive criticism [for that], which is understandable within the sporting sphere.
"If I fail, I don't expect the fans and the press to say that I have done well. There is a line that must be taken care of.
Alvaro Morata shares details of the abuse he and his family have received during EURO 2020.Stop online hate. pic.twitter.com/fCK1U0WEAs— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 25, 2021
"In England, with the issue of social networks, we made a boycott because I think it is everyone's job [to take responsibility].
"I think we still have a lot ahead of us [to resolve] and hopefully it has been achieved."
"Alvaro is becoming more and more mature. He has received stick, but he is the striker of the national team.
"It happened to [David] Villa, to Fernando [Torres]... it's not easy. Alvaro has shown that he knows how to act and face the challenge that lays ahead.
"He has confidence in himself and not only because of the goal [against Croatia], but also because of the great game he played."Also on rt.com ‘Coming back to Russia is always nice’: Switzerland don Petkovic shuns Zenit talk as he urges stars to stun Spain in St Petersburg