WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Spain squad had “great memories” of their training camp in the New Zealand town of Palmerston North and only moved to Wellington early for logistical reasons, coach Jorge Vilda said on Sunday.
A media report on Saturday said the Spanish had left for the capital ahead of schedule because they found the town boring, further straining relations with locals already upset at an attempt by the Spanish players to perform the haka challenge.
“We were delighted in Palmerston, both inside the hotel and outside,” Vilda told reporters ahead of Spain’s final Women’s World Cup Group C clash against Japan on Monday.
“It was a very favourable setting for good performance and we took away some great memories. We are in Wellington for logistical reasons and we are sure that we will be very happy here as well.”
Spain have qualified for the last 16 after victories over Costa Rica and Zambia. La Roja will aim to become only the 11th team to win all their group matches at Wellington Regional Stadium.
While Spain will take confidence from their 1-0 friendly win over Japan in Seville last November, Vilda was looking nine years back to motivate his side.
In 2014, his Spain team lost 2-0 to Japan in the under-17 Women’s World Cup final, a match that featured several of the players from both sides who will play on Monday.
“Finals leave their mark, but football gives redemption and opportunities are always taken,” he said. “These players are highly competitive and we will have that extra motivation to win.”
Japan also won their first two matches and will also be gunning for a third victory on Monday to top the group, which should bring a weaker opponent in the last 16.
Vilda said, though, that the potential opposition in the first knockout round had never been part of his calculations for the tournament.
“Be clear that Spain will always go out to win. We have not wasted a second thinking about which opponent we could play,” Vilda added.
“This match will help us grow as a team, but it is not a decisive match. We are waiting for it to arrive and we are prepared to face it.”
(Reporting by Janina Nuno Rios in Mexico City; Editing by William Mallard)