June 12, 2016

TOULOUSE, France (AP) Spain begins the European Championship hoping to avoid the mistakes that led to early elimination two years ago at the World Cup.

Monday's game against the Czech Republic will be Spain's first in a top tournament since the debacle in Brazil, when it arrived as the title favorite but failed to advance past the group stage.

''The disappointment of what happened in Brazil forces us to be more focused than ever in this competition,'' Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said Sunday.

Spain was the dominant force in world soccer before the fiasco in Brazil, winning two straight European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, and it came to France looking to re-establish its supremacy.

''We arrive with a responsibility as champions and we want to go as far as possible,'' Iniesta said. ''Each tournament is different and I think that we have a good squad and can do well.''

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said he sees his team well prepared for Euro 2016, just as he felt it was for the 2014 World Cup.

''I don't see a lot of difference from when we played in the World Cup in Brazil,'' Del Bosque said. ''We prepared well at that time, I don't see any difference. We are in good condition now and we know how to compete, but there is always uncertainty about any tournament.''

Getting off to a good start against the Czechs in their Group D opener on Monday would certainly help ''La Roja'' avoid another disappointment. Spain hasn't won its opener in a major tournament since Euro 2008, when it defeated Russia 4-1.

It started the 2014 World Cup with a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands, which was followed by a 2-0 loss to Chile. It drew 1-1 with Italy at Euro 2012 and lost to Switzerland 1-0 to begin the 2010 World Cup.

''Only at the end of the tournament we will be able to say how important the first match was,'' Iniesta said. ''We've started important competitions losing and still won the title, and we've started others with victories but ended losing.''


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

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