Olympic Soccer 2012: 6 Things We Learned from the Spain-Honduras Clash

Michael CernaCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2012

Olympic Soccer 2012: 6 Things We Learned from the Spain-Honduras Clash

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    Spain have been eliminated in the group stages!

    When was the last time we heard those words? To save you some time researching, it's been over a decade—the 2001 U-17 World Cup.

    Spain's historic run of international success has come to an end now that La Rojita has been eliminated from the 2012 London Olympics.

    After losing a second consecutive match by a score of 0-1, Luis Milla and company will now play a third match knowing that it will be their last.

    Spain had a chance to become the first team in history to hold the World Cup, European and Olympic titles at the same time, but that dream ended in just over 180 minutes.

    These young stars will have plenty of time to reflect on what could have been, but for now, let's review the decisive match.

    Here are six things we learned from Spain's 2012 Olympic match against Honduras.

Thiago Was Missed

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    When news broke that Thiago would miss the Olympics due to injury, we knew the effect would be great.

    Hardly anyone could have predicted this result, though. For those who question how great Spain could be without Xavi in the last few years, watch the Olympic squad without Thiago.

    I know Cesc Fabregas coming to Barcelona gave many fans hope for when Xavi retires, but the truth is that Xavi's heir was already wearing Blaugrana.

    Of all the supremely talented midfielders at Luis Milla's disposal, none possess Thiago's skill set. He is the general of the Olympic side, just like Xavi is for the senior squad.

    No one has the the vision, awareness or control that Thiago does. That includes Juan Mata, Isco and Iker Muniain.

    The starting squad for Spain was overloaded with attacking midfielders and had no one to control tempo and manage the midfield.

    Without Thiago, it was like we were watching Spain pre-2008 all over again. The impatience, poor passing and lack of that final ball made this clear in both matches.

Honduras Deserved the Win

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    Cheap time-wasting tactics aside, Honduras played a solid match.

    Things could not have gone better for the Central Americans. Every key advantage needed against Spain was given to them.

    Jerry Bengtson put Roger Espinoza's perfect cross into the net early on. This put pressure on Spain and allowed Honduras the chance to sit back a bit more.

    It also provided them with lots of chances to waste time and frustrate the Spaniards.

    The back four were great. They forced Spain outside and immediately closed down on the wingers. Jose Mendoza also gave a memorable performance between the posts.

    Then there were those factors that cannot be planned or prepared for—what some would call luck.

    The post seemed to be wearing white—or at least not red—all night. Rodrigo, Muniain and Mata all hit the post in the second half, and not a single rebound was found in each case.

    U.S. fans will be all too familiar with the Central American spirit, since it is what stopped them from playing in London. Now the most dominant team of our generation has had its taste.

    Welcome to the world stage, Honduras.

Aerial Struggles at Every Level

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    OK, now we know. The problem runs deeper than the senior squad.

    It is not just the absence of Carles Puyol that makes aerial balls and set pieces a problem for Spain, it is apparently a systemic problem.

    For the second straight match, a lone goal was scored through the air against Spain. For the second straight time, that single goal was enough to beat the favorites.

    Against Japan, it was a poorly defended corner that led to La Roja's demise. This time it was a hard-fought cross in the seventh minute.

    I understand that almost every ball put into the box can be a problem for any team. It is the reason teams take the risk to begin with.

    But when Javi Martinez, Alberto Botia, and Alvaro Dominguez are in the box defending against Central American and the Japanese, the chances should be minimized.

    As Spain proves that opponents will only have a handful of opportunities to score and hold possession, teams will continue to exploit this weakness and put the ball in the air as much as possible.

    This seems to be one of Spain's biggest weaknesses at every age level.

Spain Will Feel Undone

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    Oh, how differently this match could have gone.

    Throughout the evening, Spain were left frustrated by poor calls from referee Juan Soto.

    In the second half, Soto denied at least one penalty to the Spaniards.

    Adrian Lopez was brought down on the left side of the box with barely 15 minutes to play, but no call was made. He failed to do anything with the ball once he regained possession.

    The bigger, clearer injustice was done just before stoppage time, when Rodrigo was denied a clear penalty.

    As he received the ball in the middle of the box, Rodrigo turned to take a shot on goal. He never got that shot off, though, because his feet were taken out from under him and he went to ground.

    Spanish players immediately charged Soto in outrage. Juan Mata was booked for arguing and Iker Muniain was lucky not to have seen red for bumping into the referee.

    At least one penalty should have been awarded.

But, Spain Can Only Blame Themselves

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    However the Spaniards may feel about their treatment from the referee, no excuses will be heard for their early exit.

    Yes, a penalty absolutely should have been given for the foul on Rodrigo. Yes, the time-wasting antics of the Hondurans were cheap and pathetic.

    But in the end, this is a Spanish team that should have had little problem beating Honduras. At the very least, this is a team far too talented to go two matches without a single goal.

    Spain can blame the Hondurans for the lack of sportsmanship, but the Central Americans tested the composure of Luis Milla's youngsters and it got the better of Spain.

    Juan Mata and Iker Muniain were especially shameful in their reactions. Muniain was lucky not to see red after bumping into Soto after the non-call.

    Spain can blame Soto for not giving a penalty late in the game, but what about the other 180 minutes of football?

    Over the course of two matches against inferior opponents, Spain was unable to score a single goal. To have been bailed out by a late penalty would have almost been as unfair as the non-call itself.

Lesson Learned?

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    From every angle, after every analysis, this will be seen as a serious failure for Spain.

    They went into London as favorites and leave as one of the first teams eliminated. Players and fans alike were dreaming of gold medals. Talk of Spanish football at the Olympics had a celebratory tone.

    Now it's all over.

    The team may cry foul because of the referee, but no excuses should be made. Answers will be sought, but honestly, no questions should be asked.

    It was not the referee who beat Spain. It was not the Hondurans diving or faking injuries.

    It was poor passing and defending on set pieces. It was a lack of composure and poor discipline.

    And maybe—just maybe—it was a sense of entitlement. Perhaps the mindset of this squad was not right.

    It is possible that after winning every trophy at the international level, these players felt they deserved the trophy, but did not have to earn it.

    Wearing La Roja is a thing of honor. Donning the same jersey as Xavi and Iniesta, Casillas and Puyol is a thing of pride.

    But wearing the jersey does not win titles.

    These players would do wise to learn that lesson.