Spain must cope with mounting distractions
FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) - Spain will have to beat Italy in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, and deal with a few distractions, too.
The World Cup winners answered almost as many questions Tuesday about a robbery in their team hotel last week - and denied it was linked to late-night partying - as they did about the tropical heat in northeastern Brazil and Italy's desire for revenge.
The Italians were beaten 4-0 by Spain a year ago in the final of the European championship.
One distraction will be missing in Wednesday's game - Italian striker Mario Balotelli - who is out with a left leg injury as Spain tries to reach Sunday's final in Rio de Janeiro.
Spanish players responded to repeated questions about reports in the Brazilian media that a robbery last week in Spain's team hotel was connected to a party after beating 2-1 Uruguay in their opening match.
The Spanish federation has acknowledged that six of its player were robbed, but denied any partying and the presence of women from outside the Spanish traveling delegation.
"It's totally a lie,'' defender Jordi Alba said.
Fellow defender Sergio Ramos said the reports were soiling the reputation of the Spanish team and "attempting to discredit with lies a generation of football players who have shown themselves to be the best.''
"You can't play with a country with a reputation like Spain that has a super clean image,'' Ramos added. "You also can't play with families, with the children we have, with girlfriends. To put all of this in doubt by inventing a serious story. In this regard, I hope the law does what is merited.''
Spain labored through a 3-0 victory over Nigeria on Sunday, looking fatigued by the heat and humidity from the 4 p.m. match in Brazil's tropical northeast.
Nigeria ran more, and had overwhelming support from the Brazilian crowd, which jeered Spain. Italy should have the fan backing, and will also try to outrun Spain's control and ball possession. The semifinal starts at 3 p.m. EDT, again in Fortaleza in the northeast.
"The other day we were hurt by the weather, the time of the match and the physical toll it took,'' Ramos said. "But the heat is the same for both teams. Same with the time of the match and other conditions. It is what it is and we have to execute our game plan.''
Ramos said it would be better if the game started later, "but it doesn't depend on us. All we can do is adjust to it. ... Thinking about the time in Europe and television, it's more user friendly for fans. It's a time when kids (back home) can follow the match.''
Alba said Italy is a well-known commodity.
"We know their style of play,'' he said, conceding the humiliating 4-0 loss a year ago will offer plenty of motivation.
Ramos discounted the absence of Balotelli, Italy's best attacking player.
"Baloteill is a player that can make the difference,'' Ramos said. "But he's not going to play. So they will come up with another player who is as good as him, or even better.''
Follow Stephen Wade at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
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