No fear of Spain
Vicente del Bosque's all-conquering outfit have chinks in their armour that focused Irish side can exploit
THE best thing about Spain and their fantastic squad from Ireland's point of view is that Lionel Messi is from Argentina. He's the man who makes the best players in Spain hum and he's the man who makes sense of Barcelona's wonderful approach to the game.
Assessing Spain's chances against Ireland and in the rest of the Euro 2012 finals should be simple. Best players in the world, one of the best coaches and more experience of winning tournaments than any other country.
But, of course, it's not as simple as that. I've tried to dig a bit deeper and try find negatives which might help Giovanni Trapattoni and indeed every other coach in the competition.
On the face of it, if the attitude is right, if the preparation is right and if the players are not as tired as rumours have suggested, no team can top Spain in the bookmakers shop or anywhere else.
But that assessment is only useful for a speculative pre-tournament punt. We can really only wait to see if any weaknesses come to the surface when the games get under way.
So we look to what we know and there's a decent form line available from the big European club competitions this season.
I think Barcelona's Spanish heart looked frayed and worn by the time they bowed out to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. No matter how good players like Iniesta, Xavi Alonso, and Busquets are, there may well be a point where they have become sated by success.
Not consciously but perhaps the body eventually resists the need to function beyond normal limits after doing it for so long. In simple terms, it's hard to get excited by another medal.
That is a very simplistic view but relevant in this case. These players have won a quite extraordinary amount of trophies over the last six years and while I know that the hunger for winning never dies, it must at least be blunted by repetition at this stage.
It's always harder to win again after initial success and even harder to maintain your standards when you're part of a phenomenon as all the Barcelona players have been and indeed the rest of the Spanish squad at international level.
That is one possible negative for Spain and there are one or two more which Ireland fans can take some consolation from.
Most of Spain's success has been driven by the goals of David Villa and he's not around for this tournament.
I can't say I'd be overflowing with joy if I was Del Bosque contemplating the probability that Fernando Torres will be important to him.
Fernando Llorente looked like a decent player in the Europa League and he's also had a decent season for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga scoring 17 goals.
But his international experience is puny as indeed is the case with Alvaro Negredo, and Pedro Rodriguez, the other two strikers in the Spanish squad.
The other potential x-factor is the possibility that Del Bosque, with such a remarkable line-up of midfield talent, will do what he tried to do against England at Wembley and play without a recognised striker, hoping that pure talent will be enough.
It wasn't enough against what I think was an ordinary England side and that was a warning for him.
He's long enough at it to learn the lesson he needed to from the experience. I know I'm listing Spanish negatives as Irish positives but I am not for a second underestimating the good things Ireland bring to the Euro 2012 table.
Ireland will be organised, fit, sharp and hungry. Spain will have to break down a system which is conservative in nature and do it against determined professionals.
Spain will need to be in the right frame of mind to do that or Trapattoni's men could yet spring a surprise. But from where I'm sitting now, I can't see any way that it will happen.
If Spain click into gear, they will be almost impossible to beat and remain my tournament favourites.