Twelve years have now passed since the last time Spain appeared at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, with that La Roja vintage going all the way to the final at Sydney 2000. The Spanish were eventually beaten on penalties by Cameroon in an epic decider, and this disappointment was further compounded by subsequent failures to reach Athens 2004 or Beijing 2008
La Selección will be back on the scene for London 2012, however, boasting a squad bursting with talent and buoyed by victory in the UEFA U-21 Championship. Spain’s youngsters have a wealth of both domestic and international experience under their collective belts and are determined to continue boosting the profile of the country’s national youth teams.
Before the latest crop of Spanish starlets come together for their Olympic bid on British soil, FIFA.com was fortunate enough to speak to one of the members of the squad that claimed silver in Australia. That man is Raul Tamudo, who has recently signed on the dotted line for Mexico’s Pachuca.
“I’d do it again tomorrow!” said the 34-year-old striker, on his adventure at Sydney 2000. “That’s because I’ve got great memories of that experience: the atmosphere in the city, the dressing-room banter, the way everyone lived and breathed sport. On top of that we reached the final and, though we couldn’t quite win it, it was a very good game for the spectators.”
The fact that La Roja were beaten to gold by Cameroon came back to haunt Tamudo on a number of occasions during his 13-season spell (from 1998 to 2010) at La Liga outfit Espanyol, where he shared a dressing room at different times with three Indomitable Lions: Carlos Kameni, Samuel Eto’o and Pierre Wome. “The subject always used to come up,” he recalled with a wry smile.
“Whenever we disagreed on anything they’d always remind me that they were the ones with the gold medals at home,” he continued. “There wasn’t anything I could say to that, I just had to keep my mouth shut. In any case, my dad’s got my silver medal safely stored away. And not everyone’s got one of those.”
What's more, while nobody questions the prestige of competitions such as the UEFA EURO, the Copa America and the FIFA World Cup™, all those who have competed at an Olympic Football Tournament agree it is a very special event in its own right. “It’s a tournament that, due to the age restrictions, you’ll only ever experience once in your life – particularly as Spain don’t usually take any over-23 players,” said Tamudo.
“You might have more chance of taking part in a World Cup or a EURO,” he continued. “Also, an Olympic Games has a totally different vibe to it: you get the opportunity to rub shoulders with sportsmen and women from other disciplines too, it’s a different atmosphere.”
So, his advice to those preparing for London 2012 is as follows: “They should give it their best shot out on the pitch but, above anything else, they should try and enjoy themselves. They ought to savour every minute they’re over there: see the city, meet the other athletes. It’s a unique experience.”
The thrilling finale to Sydney 2000 aside, Tamudo also has very vivid memories of two other encounters during that campaign. “The toughest match was the quarter-final against Italy,” he said, of the 1-0 win secured by Gabri’s 86th-minute strike.
“It was really grueling. We knew that whichever of us went through was almost certain to reach the final and maybe win it. Besides which, we played that match in Sydney, having previously been in Melbourne and Adelaide, so it was from then on that we really started to soak up the Olympic atmosphere.”
Their last-four clash against USA, in contrast, did not come down to quite such fine margins. “I scored my only goal of the competition in that game and I’ve got very fond memories of that moment, because it helped send us through to the final,” recalled Tamudo on his well-taken opener in the 3-1 win, with the forward also supplying Jose Mari for Spain’s third goal. “The United States weren’t a very big name back then in world football terms, but even so they made life hard for us.”
The squad coached by Inaki Saez was clearly high in quality, including as it did four players – Xavi, Carlos Marchena, Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila – who went on to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
Nevertheless, Tamudo also highlighted another key factor in that team’s displays: “I think one of the secrets to our success was the human side of the squad: the fact we got on so well and the great atmosphere in the camp. An Olympic Games can mean spending over a month away from home and if the atmosphere’s not right it can really drag. The time we spent together in Australia was magnificent.”
Putting nostalgia aside, we asked for Tamudo’s verdict on the squad that could be at the disposal of coach Luis Milla come the Olympic showpiece. “He’ll have players from big clubs with a lot of experience, as well as European [U-21] champions. I think that they must be among the favourites. Spain are challengers at every competition and there’s some very strong young talent coming through.”
And finally, would he be keen on going along as one of the overage players? “With the players they’ve got I don’t think they need an old guy in the squad. I might even feel a bit out of place at my age!” he said with a smile, as the conversation concluded. “I think this is a chance for younger players, for those with the desire and enthusiasm you have when you’re starting out. It’s their time to experience this, I’ve already had my turn.”