After an absence of 12 years, Spain are poised to make their return to the Men's Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012. Their last appearance was at Sydney 2000, with a team that included current world champions Xavi and Carles Puyol. La Roja lost in the final that year to Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon, but in doing so won their first footballing silver medal since Antwerp 1920. Spain struck gold as hosts of Barcelona 1992, and that remains their only success in nine Olympic campaigns to date. Kiko was their hero on that occasion, his goal in the 90th minute sealing a 3-2 victory over Poland.
Spain have produced many talented youth teams in recent years, but their prolonged failure to reach the Olympics had become a real sore point. Now, though, the current crop of young talents are showing they have the ability to take up the baton from the all-conquering golden generation, and London 2012 should be the perfect stage for them to prove their credentials.
The U-23 squad is brimming with quality, from the safe hands of David de Gea in goal and the energy of right-back Cesar Azpilicueta, to the midfield flair of Ander Herrera and the clinical finishing of forward Adrian. With players of this calibre, Spain will be confident of mounting a strong challenge for Olympic gold.
Coach Luis Milla had no shortage of talent at his disposal when the time came to pick his squad for the Olympics. Several of the youngsters who helped Spain to qualify for London 2012 are now full internationals. In fact, the team will count on the veteran talent of Juan Manuel Mata, from Chelsea, and Javi Martinez, from Athletic Bilbao, who were both champions at South Africa 2010 and UEFA EURO 2012. Also included is Jordi Alba, one of the unexpected stars of EURO 2012 and a new signing at Barcelona. That impressive base is the foundation of a strong project which is aiming for no less than a medal.
Facts and figures
Jose Samitier, Pichichi, Ricardo Zamora, Josep Guardiola, Kiko, Xavi, Joan Capdevila, Carles Puyol.
Adrian, David De Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta, Ander Herrera, Oriol Romeu.
Spain qualified for London 2012 by virtue of winning the 2011 UEFA European U-21 Championship. La Rojita clinched the continental title with a 2-0 win over Switzerland in the final, after beating Belarus 3-1 in the semis. They had earlier finished top of a keenly contested group, thanks to victories over Czech Republic and Ukraine, and a draw against England.
The numbers game
2 – The Spain squad that secured qualification for London 2012 featured two FIFA World Cup winners: Juan Mata and Javi Martinez. Both players were part of the squad that triumphed at South Africa 2010.