Spain midfielder Juan Mata has launched a passionate defence of his side after their dramatic 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands in their World Cup opener.
The team were largely condemned in the wake of Friday’s catastrophic result, with suggestions that their six-year reign at the top of world football is over and calls for manager Vicente del Bosque to introduce wholesale changes to the line-up.
Mata however insists that the side are as united as ever and believes they will bounce back in their now must-win matchup against Chile on Wednesday.
‘I feel very proud to belong to this team, to this generation of footballers, who during good times and, above all, during bad times have stayed united, believing in our idea and in our football,’ Mata said. ‘I believe that we can reverse this situation.
‘Since I’ve arrived with this team, I feel like part of a family. They make you feel like we are all equal,’ he added. ‘During harsh times, the ones that have been here longer take care of the younger ones, leading the way for newcomers. This relationship and sense of family is the main reason behind the success of this national team.’
Though Mata was not with Spain for their Euro 2008 victory which began their unprecedented run of success, the Manchester United star was a part of both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 squads, which see La Roja looking for their fourth consecutive major title in Brazil.
With much of the core of del Bosque’s side in their 30s going into the tournament however, many have labelled this the final hurrah for Spain’s “Golden Generation”, as the Dutch defeat only served to strengthen the narrative of the “death of tiki-taka”.
Such sentiment though may well prove a gross exaggeration in due time, considering the team can call on the likes of Javi Martinez, Cesc Fabregas, Koke and Mata himself to step into the lineup once veterans such as Xavi and Xabi Alonso depart.
Testament to their strength in depth, Mata has never been a regular fixture in the Spain starting 11 since making his debut in 2009, despite establishing himself as one of the top players in Europe over the past half-decade between Valencia and Chelsea, before earning a club record £37.1 million move to Old Trafford in January this year.
It remains to be seen whether del Bosque will call upon the 26-year-old for the crucial match on Wednesday but, if their legendary side has to be dismantled after this summer, then having players like Mata able to step up surely proves that the future is still bright.