Spain vs. Honduras: 5 Key Battles to Watch in Olympic Football Clash
After Spain's surprising loss to Japan in their opening fixture, their next match against Honduras is a must win.
Spain's Olympic squad has some big names on it, but the performance against the Japanese U23 side highlighted the fact that when it comes to U23s, Spain do not possess the dominance they do at the senior international level.
That is, as long as you aren't a Spain fan, a good thing. The football at this year's tournament is going to be far from perfect, yet highly exciting and far less predictable than other international tournaments.
Honduras, meanwhile, had to settle for a single point against Morocco in their opening fixture, surrendering a second half lead and failing to capitalize on their opponents having a man sent off.
Highly touted Spain will be looking to take out their anger on the relatively unheralded Honduran side, but may well run into more resistance than they might have expected.
Here are five of the key clashes that will help decide this important Group D tie, which kicks off on Sunday, July 29, at 19:45 BST.
Jerry Bengtson vs. David De Gea
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea was one of the few Spanish players to have a good game against Japan.
De Gea made several good saves, including a one-handed diving effort that kept a curling shot away from his top corner.
He may well have to be in similar form again against Honduras, partially because his own defence looked far from solid when put under pressure, getting dispossessed and misjudging back-passes far too regularly.
The other reason De Gea will need to be on top of his game is Jerry Bengtson, the Honduran striker. The 25-year-old scored both goals for Honduras against Morocco, the first a real poacher's finish and the second a coolly executed penalty.
Bengtson is experienced at the international level. He has 22 caps and has scored eight times for his country's senior team, not something to be laughed at.
Bengtson will look to make a nuisance of himself in the box and try to get a boot on anything heading in the vague direction of the goal. De Gea will have to respond by giving clear instructions to his defenders with regards to who will mark the striker and if he intends to come for the ball himself; the ideal situation for Bengtson will be a goal mouth scramble with multiple Spanish players going for the same ball.
Maynor Figueroa vs Álvaro Domínguez
Maynor Figueroa has accumulated a mountain of Premier League experience for Wigan, playing 145 games for the club, including all 38 last season.
At age 29, Figueroa has developed into a solid defensive player who can threaten going forward, as seen in Honduras' first game, where his surge forward led to his side's equalizer.
Alvaro Domínquez, meanwhile, did not have the best of outings in his Olympic début. The right-back almost gifted Japan a goal with a shocking back pass and looked far from assured in defence.
With Figueroa's ability going forward, there is going to be a great deal of pressure on Domínquez, but the 23-year-old should not be underestimated. He has plenty of experience with Atlético Madrid, and has earned a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach, a side who finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season.
If Figueroa is able to expose Domínquez to two-on-one situations, or is able to beat him one-on-one, Spain are going to be exposed on the right flank and hard pressed to prevent Honduras from scoring. If, however, Domínquez is able to hold his own, a major avenue of attack for Honduras will have been neutralized.
Juan Mata vs Roger Espinoza
Juan Mata has already won the Champions League and the European Championships this year, and will be desperate to make it three in a row with Olympic Gold.
Being the biggest name in the Spanish side and functioning as the team's playmaker, dealing with Mata will be a priority for Honduras.
It makes sense, therefore, to deploy Roger Espinoza against the Chelsea star. Espinoza is one of Honduras' over-aged players and has four years experience in the MLS, as well as plenty of games for the Honduran national side to his name.
Espinoza is likely to sit deep against Spain and, as Japan did, deny Mata time and space on the ball. If he is successful, Honduras will prevent La Roja from creating as many chances and force them into a change of tactics, an important psychological victory. If Mata proves to be too good for Espinoza, Spain could well dominate the centre of midfield.
Jordi Alba vs Andy Nájar
Jordi Alba, Barcelona's new left back, showed a tendency to play too far forwards against Japan, something he cannot afford to do when he comes up against Andy Nájar on Sunday.
Nájar is a highly rated young right-winger, currently turning out for D.C United in the MLS, where he was the league's rookie of the year in 2010. The 19 year-old is already attracting interest from the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, where he had a trial late last year.
Quick and skilful, Nájar is bound to keep Alba, not the finest tackler, busy and will be looking to force him into mistakes.
Alba, however, has been signed by Barcelona for a reason. The Catalan native had a great season with Valencia and excelled at Euro 2012 as the starting left-back. Nájar's task is far more than a simple walk in the park.
Adrián López vs José Mendoza
Spain's Adrián López, one of the over-aged picks, had a successful season with Atlético Madrid, especially in the Europa League where he netted eight goals as his side won the competition.
Lopez's job as goalscorer is bound to bring him into conflict with José Mendoza, the Honduran goalkeeper.
The 23-year-old Mendoza put on a good performance against Morocco, pulling off a dramatic save in the first half and coming out decisively late in the second half to preserve a point for his country. He was not to blame for either of Morocco's goals, both excellently placed shots.
Against a Spanish side with a lot of creative power, Mendoza is going to have to be just as alert as he was in his first match.
With Lopez's experience in La Liga, he is well aware of how to get into goalscoring positions, something that will force Mendoza to make saves. Whether the Honduran has the necessary ability to keep Lopez at bay remains to be seen, but it could well be an entertaining contest.