Paris: Spain can no longer match the standards that won back-to-back European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012, Gerard Pique admitted after his side crashed out of Euro 2016 to Italy.
Spain's Gerard Pique reacts after missing out on a scoring opportunity during their Euro 2016 Round-of-16 match against Italy at the Stade de France in Paris on Monday. Pic/Getty Images
The 2-0 defeat means that Spain, who also claimed their maiden World Cup in 2010, have now been embarrassed in two consecutive major tournaments. They were dumped out of the 2014 World Cup as holders after just two group matches. "We have to be realistic, we don't have the same level as when we were world and European champions," said Barcelona defender Pique.
"There are youngsters coming through that promise a lot. There are others who have years of experience and we have to continue offering that experience and talent. The level isn't the same. We have to accept it and be critical to get to the World Cup in Russia in good conditions and at a better level."
'Del Bosque's call'
However, Pique defended the right of coach Vicente del Bosque to take time to decide his future despite the latest failure. Del Bosque was in charge for the tournament wins in 2010 and 2012. But the 65-year-old had already resisted calls to resign after the World Cup two years ago.
"He has won the right to decide. He is a very important person for football in this country," added Pique. Del Bosque insisted he will speak with the Spanish Football Federation's president Angel Maria Villar before making his decision.
Yet, the former Real Madrid boss refuted suggestions it was the end of an era for Spanish football. "It has been and is a great era for Spanish football," said Del Bosque.