Heavily backed to land a medal in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, Spain are heading for home much earlier than expected after finishing bottom of Group D. Headed by Japan, Honduras and Morocco, they collected a solitary point from their three games and failed to score a single goal, leaving the players struggling for answers.
“I can’t explain it,” said Jordi Alba. “It’s very disappointing,” added team-mate Juan Mata in the aftermath of their final game, a goalless draw with the Moroccans. Just a month on from tasting glory with the full national side at UEFA EURO 2012, both were struggling to come to terms with a massive and unexpected blow.
“We knew we couldn’t achieve anything in this match but the team went for the win all the same,” continued the Chelsea player. “We had a lot of chances to score but the goal just never came, and it’s hard to go through if you don’t hit the back of the net.”
Such were Spain’s struggles in front of goal that they were the only side in the competition not to score. “Bad luck had something to do with it,” said Mata, attempting to explain that surprising statistic. “Our finishing wasn’t sharp enough, though, and that’s definitely one thing we need to improve on.”
“These things happen in football. Something you have two shots and you score two goals and something you have eight and don’t score any,” added Alba. “The team didn’t shy away from the challenge and we deserved to win our last two games. It’s beyond me. It’s very strange to be going home without a goal because we created some great chances.”
As Mata pointed out, the fact that the Spanish put everything into their three matches means they can at least go home with clear consciences: “We didn’t score any goals and we didn’t win a single match at these Olympics, but we’re a proud team and we gave it our all right to the end, even when we knew there was nothing in the Morocco game for us. We fought to the final whistle in each game.”
For Alba, who will shortly be teaming up with his new colleagues at Barcelona, the overriding feeling was, inevitably, one of wounded pride: “Obviously, it’s very galling for us to be going home. It’s a tough blow because we had the team to go and achieve something big here. We feel very angry about not getting any further.”
Mata echoed those sentiments: “There’s a lot of disappointment because we had high hopes of doing well and yet it was all over for us after the second game. There’s some anger mixed in there too.”
Having voiced his frustration, Mata, who also formed part of the squad that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, then sought to accentuate the positive: “You have to learn from defeats, take the positive things from them and grow as a result. This setback is going to help us mature in our careers and it’s shown us that things don’t always go your way.
“We’ll learn that you can’t always win, something we’ve been used to doing in the last few years thanks to the fantastic run the national team has had. It’s situations like this that show you just how hard it is to come out on top.”
Though perplexed by the team's failure, Mata was nevertheless determined to keep his composure and look ahead to future challenges: “Feeling angry and hurt is understandable, but we’ll get over that in time. There’ll be new goals for us and we’ll learn from this setback. We’ll come back from it.”