Spain Olympic Soccer Team: Players Who Came Up Small on World Stage
After victories at the 2010 World Cup and the UEFA Euro 2012, Spain's national soccer team had high hopes for the 2012 Olympics. Though the Olympics are often an unreliable indicator of a national team's talent, most believed that Spain's bevy of young stars and momentum from Euro 2012 would carry the Spanish team to the medal podium, perhaps even to a gold medal for the first time since 1992.
The Spanish team shocked everyone by not only failing to win a single game in group play, but by failing to score a single goal. No one played well in the team's losses to Japan and Honduras and draw with Morocco, and many Spanish soccer fans are now worrying about the national team's future based on the underwhelming performance by their brightest young talents.
Here is a look at some of the members of the Spanish team who were most disappointing at the London Olympics.
Though 24-year-old Adrian Lopez has played in La Liga and on Spanish international teams since 2005, he didn't much resemble a player with seven years of experience in Spain's 0-0 draw against Morocco.
Lopez had two good opportunities to score in the match but failed both times. His first miss was in the 31st minute, when he shot low and struck the post. It was a wasted opportunity to be sure, but easily understandable. It was his second mistake that was far more egregious for a player as experienced as Lopez.
In the 69th minute, Lopez received a pass from Oriol Romeu, leaving him with a clear path to the goal. Lopez believed he was offside, and violating the cardinal rule of playing until the whistle is blown, he paused to turn to the linesman to see if his belief was confirmed. The linesman made no signal, and Lopez responded by attempting a weak chip toward the goal, sending the ball wide for a goal kick.
Lopez attempted six shots in the Olympic tournament and missed every one.
A goal by Lopez at either opportunity would have been inconsequential for Spain's Olympic effort, as a win still would have left them behind Japan and Honduras in Group D, finishing ahead of only Morocco. Still, it would have spared Spain the embarrassment of exiting the Olympics without a single goal, and would have made Spain's Olympic performance a disappointment instead of an embarrassment.
Spain's disastrous Olympic effort began with a 1-0 loss to Japan, an outcome that might not have come to pass if not for the red card earned by Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez.
Spain appeared to be the dominant team in the early minutes of their match against Japan, but failed to convert on two scoring opportunities. Japan got in their own rhythm, and Yuki Otsu gave Japan an early lead with a goal in the 34th minute.
Just seven minutes later, Inigo Martinez crippled Spain's chance of coming back by fouling Kensuke Nagai, who was through on goal. Martinez was immediately given a red card, leaving Spain down not only a goal, but also a man.
The wind was clearly taken out of Spain's sails, and Japan controlled the tempo of the early second half. If not for a great save by David de Gea and a few shots that missed the net, Japan might have gone up 2-0 or even 3-0. Spain began to play more aggressively, but Japan's strong play and their missing man prevented them from being much of a credible threat to score.
It is too much to say that Martinez's red card was the turning point for Spain in the Olympics, but it hampered the team's ability to come back against Japan. After Spain's first loss, the team never looked the same again, failing to defeat two clearly inferior teams. Soccer is a game of momentum, and Inigo Martinez killed his team's momentum at a critical moment.
Unlike Lopez and Martinez, Jordi Alba came up short not because of any big mistake, but instead because he failed to live up to the lofty expectations he set for himself at UEFA Euro 2012.
Alba failed to score in the Olympic tournament, taking only one shot on goal.
Alba started in each of Spain's six Euro 2012 wins, and scored a goal in the team's 4-0 effort in the final game against Italy. Alba's stock rose so high due to his performance that Barcelona acquired him and signed him to a five-year contract during the tournament.
Still, there were concerns about Alba's health that led Barcelona to question his decision to play in the Olympics. Teammate Cesc Fabregas expressed concern that Alba's decision to play in the Olympics so soon after the Euros might not give him adequate time to rest before playing with Barcelona. While the team supported Alba in his decision, they may have regrets after Alba's uninspired performance in London.
In many ways, Juan Mata's performance was the best of anyone on La Roja. Yet that is more indicative of an almost complete lack of competition from his teammates than it is of anything terribly impressive on the part of Mata.
At times, Mata looked to be in strong control of the tempo of Spain's game. He helped set up several strong scoring chances for his team, and seemed to have little problem blowing by the defenders of Morocco and Honduras. But like the rest of his teammates, Mata wasted scoring chance opportunities. He sent shots wide of the net and missed an easy chip in against Morocco. He took 13 shots during the group stage, but only four were on goal.
Several members of the Spanish team have echoed the sentiment that the team played well, but just encountered bad luck in their inability to score. This silly sentiment is perfectly evidenced in Juan Mata, who helped his squad set up several scoring opportunities, but was unable to convert with a goal whenever he was given the chance.