Olympic Men’s Football Preview – Group D
Spain qualified for London 2012 after winning the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championships, and this is the first visit to the Olympics since Sydney 2000, where they finished as runners-up. In their first ever Olympic appearance in Barcelona 1992, they won the gold medal and got to the quarter finals in Atlanta 1996, so they do tend to do extremely well when they get here.
The Spaniards have only played a few games in preparation for London, mainly due to the senior team’s preparation for this summer’s European Championships. The talent that lurks within the squad is scary, particularly as their oldest over-age player is only 24. Spain did not follow England’s reserves/Team GB’s example of refusing to call up players that played in Polkraine, as the likes of Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez will all be in action, kicking off against Japan at Hampden Park, Glasgow.
With the likes of David de Gea, César Azpilicueta, Oriol Romeu and Cristian Tello also in the squad, you’d imagine Spain will come across no major difficulties in progressing from the group stages.
With the recent record the Spanish national team have across all youth levels and obviously the senior squad as well, many people have made Spain joint favourites with Brazil, and understandably so!
Takashi Sekizuka’s team got to the Olympics via finishing on top of Group C of the Asian Qualifiers, losing only one game in the process. The squad have been playing together for over 18 months, winning 13 of 20 games played, although two of those losses came in the Toulon Tournament in May.
The squad is mainly based in Japan, although five players currently play in Germany. They’ve bucked the trend somewhat and only named two over-age players in their squad, Yuhei Tokunaga of FC Tokyo and Maya Yoshida of Dutch side VVV-Venlo. Both players have been capped by the senior squad, and Yoshida also played in the previous Olympic squad of 2008. The Japanese squad will be looking to their experience to help guide them through the group stages.
The main goal threat will come from Nagoya Grampus’ Kensuke Nagai, with a fantastic record of nine goals in 13 games during Japan’s preparations. Nagai has also been the top scorer in the AFC U-19 Championships, the Summer Universiade and the Asian Games, so he clearly knows where the net is and may be looking to the Olympics as his chance to move to European football.
Coach Luis Suarez (not THAT one) took the Hondurans to their third Olympics after getting to the final of the CONCAFAF qualifiers, losing 2-1 to Mexico in extra time.
Johnny Leveron, Maynor Figueroa, Roger Espinoza, Eddie Hernandez are their star players. Figueroa will be familiar to English Premier League fans as Wigan’s left-back. Here’s an interesting fact for you… Figueroa (according to Wikipedia) is believed to be the only professional footballer who doesn’t have all 10 toes.
You can ask him if it’s true or not.
Espinoza is one of the over-age players and currently plays in the MLS for Sporting Kansas City. I’ve seen a little bit of him in America and the opposition will do well to keep an eye on him.
Suarez believes Honduras can get out of the groups, but I’m afraid I disagree with him – I see Spain and Japan going through with relative ease.
Dutch coach Pim Verbeek got the Moroccans to London the same way as Honduras got there – in a runners-up position. Morocco have never done anything of note at the Olympics and I wouldn’t expect them to change that this time around.
Houssine Kharja is the main man in the squad. The 29 year old is well known for spending almost all of his career in Italy, although he agreed a move to Qatari outfit Al-Arabi in June this year, probably looking for his last big payday.
The Moroccans do have some young talent at London, and I hope to see 19 year old Zakaria Labyad show off some of his potential. The youngster can either play in midfield or the wings, and just moved from PSV to Sporting Lisbon. As our Irish/Dutch friend Karl Browne will tell you, he ripped the Eredivise apart at times, and I expect big times of him in the future.
Unfortunately for me, the group stages are as far as Morocco go.