Expectation could hinder World and European champions
22 July ~ Spain's eventful summer continues with the Olympic Games, after retaining two European Championships at senior and Under-19 level. The intent is clear from the 1992 gold medallists, with a squad containing David de Gea, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba, and those with tickets for their games at Hampden Park, St James' Park and Old Trafford may not share the largely ambivalent view of the tournament. However, following a friendly defeat to Senegal, expectations may need lowering. The quality and depth of Spain's team is not disputed, particularly in a group with Japan, Honduras and Morocco, but fatigue may be a major factor.
Alba played every minute of the Euro 2012 campaign, while Mata, another scorer in the final, was pivotal as Chelsea won the FA Cup and Champions League. Four Spain players managed more club appearances than Mata's 53 last season: Adrián López, Ander Herrera, Javi Martínez and Iker Muniain.
With an average age of 22, their relative experience is unrivalled in world football. Yet the Olympics, where Spain have not competed in over a decade, will have a different intensity to last year's Under-21 Euros win, which secured qualification. Manager Luis Milla said: "I believe it would be unfair to demand that this team be at the same level as the full national team. This team has character and a similar playing philosophy but it is a different team under different pressures."
Given that the senior side have created history by winning three consecutive major tournaments, Mata calling to be "isolated from these expectations" is no surprise. He has added: "It seems that we must win the gold without even playing first, and that's not the case. There are other very strong teams, who have squads that can challenge for the title."
The biggest challengers should come from South America. Uruguay and Brazil boast similarly illustrious names, such as Hulk, Neymar and Luis Suárez. Spanish players have also recognised Mexico and Great Britain. "Looking at the group we have, with big name players, we can see serious options of a medal," attacking midfielder Isco said, "but we need to show this on the field where we will face very difficult opponents."
Even if they do not leave London with gold medals, the Games will showcase Spain's promising future, including their chances of defending the World Cup in two years. Just as Beijing 2008 was a turning point for Lionel Messi, a winner with Argentina, now can be the time for the next generation of stars. Tom Parfitt