El Centrocampista

Underwhelming Spanish performance is a case of recent history repeating

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Fresh from the recent success of  Vicente del Bosque’s team at Euro 2012 , Spain’s under-23 side opened up their Olympic bid with a shock  defeat against Japan at Hampden Park.

Despite being installed as favourites for the gold medal, La Roja were stunned by a 34th minute goal from Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Yuki Otsu who helped record Japan’s first win in their history against the Spanish.

Perhaps of most concern for coach Luis Milla, is the fact that everything Spain are noted for was disturbingly absent against the Japanese. The link up play was fractured, the pressing was half-hearted, and the attacking threats virtually none existent.

Those looking for excuses may well point to the first half sending off of Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez who was dismissed for a professional foul, however, even the most biased of Spanish fans would have to admit Milla’s side didn’t do enough to warrant getting anything out of the game.

Truth be told, this appeared more of a pre-season stroll than a chance to win one of sport’s most prized possessions – an Olympic gold medal. The much praised tiki-taka style was still evident, but its execution was poor. Of course it must be noted that the squad is made up primarily of youngsters, nonetheless, it was a far cry from the levels they are undoubtedly capable of.

Maybe expectations are too high whenever a Spanish side takes to the field, but this was underwhelming in the extreme. And yet for all of Spain’s misgivings, it would be unfair and inaccurate not to give Japan some credit. Right from the first whistle they were organised, rigid, and most importantly carried an infectious high tempo approach off the ball.

“Come and break us down” was the cry. Spain did little to chip anything off the formidable Japanese wall. Despite being on the back foot for much of the second half, Japan actually looked the more likely to trouble the scoreboard again –  in part due to some suicidal Spanish defending.

While to many the result may have come as a shock, it was one that merely epitomised the football fortunes of Spain in the Olympics since they were beaten finalists at the Sydney games of 2000.

The country may have conquered all before them in recent times, but it is interesting to note their record in Olympic football is not as formidable as perhaps one would expect. In fact despite having an almost embarrassing plethora of young talent to choose from, the nation were surprise absentees in the last two games after failing to qualify for, both Athens in 2004, and then Beijing in 2008.

While fans of the Spanish game may not normally have much to moan about, the country’s recent inability to make an impact on Olympic football is a source of bemusement to many. By virtue of winning the 2011 Uefa Under-21 Championships, this year Spain were billed to right those wrongs with Milla having a chance to manage a side that could be the first in history to hold the World, European and Olympic trophies all at the same time.

However based on first showing, that dream seems a long way from becoming reality. It isn’t all over for Spain, just yet, and with the likes of Javi Martinez, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, Iker Muniain and Thiago Alcantara, it would be foolish to completely write them off. But things need to improve and fast.

With a game against Honduras on Sunday, they have little time to hold a full debrief of what went wrong. They must take comfort from the fact that victories against Honduras and Morocco would be enough to qualify, but if they are to challenge the podium places then a marked improvement is needed.

There is little doubt that Spain will grow into this tournament, but will it be enough?

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