Spain squad [1296x729]
Spain squad [1296x729] (Credit: (Photo by Rafa Babot/Getty Images))

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Full disclosure: this is a column making the case that Spain can win Euro 2024 and that, in fact, it's odd that nobody seems to be naming them as dark horses. But, given football's brutal, spiteful and quixotic nature, this is also a column that admits that La Roja might, if they miss a beat, get kicked out in the group stages.

Do you find that contradictory? Well, show patience and read on.

The past is a promise written in invisible ink as far as what it actually guarantees for today. But, having said that, if you were a horse-racing expert studying Spain's form, you'd be getting excited by the following information.

Spain's past five tournaments have finished: semifinalists, Olympic silver medallists, finalists, round of 16, winners. The kind of "stayer" that horse bookies fear.

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In fact, it's firm evidence of an extended era where, even while coaches and players come and go, La Roja stays competitive, threatening and, last summer, able to turn potential into trophy-lifting aptitude. In case your memory is straining at the seams, this is a record which was established across Euro 2020-The Tokyo Olympics-Nations League 2021-World Cup-Nations League 2023.

Meaning that Spain, not Italy, are the last European nation to lift an international trophy -- and they beat their first two Group B rivals from this tournament in order to do so.

Liking it so far? Beginning to agree that all this talk about there being no one outside the power-group of Germany, England, Portugal and France is misguided? Good: time to switch track temporarily. Temporarily because I genuinely believe that Spain are solid contenders to lift the trophy in Berlin.

But, the fact remains, they've drawn a brute of a group. Spain arrive here in southern Germany (against a backdrop of biblical rain and constant sheet lightning) having smacked two minor opponents around scoring 10 against Andorra and Northern Ireland.

But it's a sad fact that there are days when they can look a little constipated in front of goal -- particularly against stolid, organised, defensive teams. A playing strength which, when they want to, Croatia, Italy and Albania can all show pretty healthily.

Focusing on Croatia, it shouldn't be forgotten that last summer, even though it was Luis de la Fuente's team, rather than the Luka Modric XI which lifted the trophy -- the Nations League final victory only came after an exhausting, tense and evenly-balanced 120 minutes during which neither team scored.

There have been personnel changes for the Croatians too but what never, ever falters is their enormous, canny, hard-to-douse fighting spirit. One of Spain's key players, Dani Olmo, cut his teeth at Dinamo Zagreb and he's told me on numerous occasions that it's a trait which runs through every Croatian sport and the entire society.

You fight. You never cede a millimetre -- then you find a way to win. And then repeat. Endlessly.

None of these current Spain players were in the mix the last time La Seleccion won a Euro 12 years ago -- but all of them with the exception of Lamine Yamal, who was four years old, will have watched it. And one of the most tense, nail-biting tests La Roja had across their entire trophy-treble of Euro-World Cup-Euro between 2008 and 2012 was the final group game 12 years ago when Croatia pushed Vicente del Bosque's team to the absolute limit.

That Spain side was packed full of behemoth footballers, almost all of them were World Champions and, within a few days, would defeat France, Portugal and Italy in order to retain their European crown.

But, until Jesús Navas' 88th minute winner, a single unanswered goal for Croatia would have put Slaven Bilic's side through and the reigning World and European Champions out. The Spanish media criticism of that match was so absolutely vitriolic that Del Bosque stayed up all night re-watching it and making notes then held an ad-hoc press conference the following morning just to tell Spain's critics that they were talking through their backsides.

Another example of what type of test should be in store for De la Fuente's side against Croatia can be drawn from the first-ever Nations League, back in 2018. Spain took the recently defeated World Cup finalists, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic and gave them a proper thrashing. It finished 6-0 and could have been five or six more.

And by the time the last group fixture came around, Croatia were already eliminated from the group but ran Spain off their legs in Zagreb, despite the match having nothing riding on it bar pride, beat them 3-2 thanks to a 90th minute winner and gave La Roja a salutary lesson for this Saturday.

Do. Not. Write. Croatia. Off. Ever.

By the way, if this match turns out to be as tight as it looks like being, when these two play the second match of Euro 2024, then try not to start chewing your nails too early. Croatia and Spain have met six times competitively and in four of those there have been result-altering goals in the 87th, 89th or 90th minute.

This is likely to be Hitchcock-level tension.

Italy, as far as Spain were concerned, used to be nothing less than what Kryptonite was for Superman. Potentially lethal.

When Gli Azzurri sneaked through their group at Euro 2008, much against the odds, and thus set up a quarter final against Luis Aragones' Spain side, the gnarled old warhorse coach nearly vomited with disgust. He started muttering and cursing -- all because during his entire lifetime Spain had not only never beaten Italy in a competitive fixture. This was a hoodoo which, back then, had lasted 88 years.

Bete Noire it's called in French. Bestia Negra in Spanish. A "Bogey Team" in English.

That tie at Euro 2008 turned out to be a 0-0 draw [Spain winning on penalties] meaning that the hoodoo eventually stretched 92 years, from 1920 until 2012 before La Roja beat Gli Azzurri inside 90 minutes of a competitive match!

You can't be surprised that, for many, Italy is a forbidden word when it comes to Spain playing at international tournaments. Albania we'll come to in due course over the next few.

If Spain haven't dealt with either of the other two "big guns" in Group B then the fact that Sylvinho's team is stubborn, well coached and defends vigorously will all look a good deal more worrying. All of which means that this group is a million miles away from a "gimme" for Spain.

Modric & Co. are not only technically capable of making it tough in Berlin this weekend -- they are philosophically quite capable of deciding to defend deep, to play on the break and to try to grab a winner from a set play. This is not a national team which feels the pressure of the fans' desire for flowing football breathing down their neck -- supporters and players share the same objective: win by whatever means necessary.

The only entertainment they truly care about is the frustrated tears and complaints of their beaten rivals. Trip up on Saturday and, suddenly, navigating the group and getting to the knockouts, even though a few third placed sides will be allowed to sneak through, will look a tremulous, threatening task.

But I back Spain to find a way to take seven points in Group B, to qualify and then to pick up momentum. These players have the scent of greatness in their nostrils. Most of them won trophies for their clubs this season. Most of them won the Nations League last summer and fought tigerishly to do so.

They have solidity, hunger, character, winning-experience, some magical players [Lamine, Nico Williams, Pedri] plus a talisman Jack-in-the-Box goal scorer in Joselu.

La Roja can definitely become European champions this summer. But, despite that demonstrable truth, I like the Chinese proverb that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

That comes on Saturday -- and a journey of a thousand miles simply won't happen if you trip and fall flat on your face at the first step.