The year 2012 has certainly been incident-packed and filled with mixed feelings so far for Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao and Spain. At club level, the versatile midfielder/central defender played a key role in Los Leones’ run to the finals of the 2011/12 Copa del Rey and UEFA Europa League, only to taste defeat in both deciders.
Martinez was then part of the Spanish squad that successfully defended their continental title at UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, though he played just 25 minutes of La Roja’s glorious campaign. Yet, with winners’ medals from the EURO and the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ safely in the bag, this gritty performer did not want to stop there.
Mere days after victory in the EURO, Martinez agreed to captain Spain's squad at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, with La Selección heavily backed for a medal despite a 12-year absence from the competition. That particular dream ended almost as quickly as it began, however, as successive 1-0 Group D defeats against Japan and Honduras respectively confirmed Spain’s exit before the first phase was even over.
Nor did their final game in the section provide much consolation, as the Spanish rounded off an ill-fated bid with a 0-0 draw, thus heading for home clutching a solitary point and without having scored a single goal. Despite the disappointment, skipper Martinez agreed to sit down with FIFA.com for an in-depth look at what went wrong for Luis Milla’s charges on British soil.
FIFA.com: Looking back, what was the verdict on the two opening defeats that ended Spain’s hopes at this Olympics?
Javi Martinez: The conclusion we drew is that we’ve wasted a great opportunity, because we had a great team and a great coach. But football’s like that sometimes and we simply didn’t perform to the best of our ability. That said, I do think the team played well and deserved much more than we got, we just didn’t get any luck going our way. For example, in the game against Honduras we racked up 24 shots at goal, we hit the woodwork three times, had ten clear chances and the ball wouldn’t go in the net. And they had two chances and scored once. There’s not much you can do about that.
Against Morocco, with only professional pride at stake, we wanted to bounce back and take all three points before heading for home, but that wasn’t to be either. But, in any case, I think we should be proud of how we played, particularly against Honduras. Sometimes the ball just won’t go in and there’s nothing you can do. The main regret we do have is that a lot of hard work has gone to waste.
Ill fortune aside, do you think any other factor, such as tactics or fitness, played a part?
No, football’s like this. Sometimes matches go well and other times they don't. I don’t think we played so badly to deserve this end result. The team did everything they could but the ball wouldn’t go in, and that’s that.
Do you think that the Spanish contingent will take their fondest memories from sampling the atmosphere in the Olympic Village and taking part in the opening ceremony?
Being at these Games is a very special experience. It’s very difficult just to qualify, and then it’s hard to win a place in the squad. We had a lot of ups and downs on the way here too, while Spain hadn’t appeared at this tournament for 12 years so we should be proud of that as well. To have experienced the opening ceremony first-hand, been part of the athletes’ parade and visited the Olympic Village are memories that we’ll never forget. We were also fortunate enough to bump into several French and Spanish NBA players and had our photos taken with them. It was just a shame that I couldn’t meet Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Usain Bolt, as they’re all people I really look up to.
It has been a particularly intense summer for you, given you plunged straight into Olympic preparations shortly after the end of EURO 2012.
I could definitely do with a few days’ holiday, to give my mind and body a bit of a rest. It was a long season with my club and then there were two tournaments on top of that, so I need some rest before going back to club duty.
Last season with Athletic, coach Marcelo Bielsa’s first term at the helm, you reached the Copa del Rey and Europa League finals. What are your goals for this coming campaign?
Without a doubt, we’re aiming to improve on last season. The club, the players and the fans are all happy with how we performed but, even though there was a very good vibe surrounding what we achieved, losing those two finals left us with the feeling of unfinished business. We’ve got to keep on working hard to improve as players and keep honing our game.
Despite the Olympics not going to plan, do you think there’s enough talent coming through the Spanish youth national-team ranks to continue the senior side’s run of success?
Without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve had a very good few years. We’re also European champions at U-19 and U-21 level, we’ve got a good production line of young talent and there's total faith in them. It can be very easy for everybody to become accustomed to success, which can very often mean that during a good run of results or a positive period people don’t realise how hard it is to keep winning.
This kind of setback makes you stop and think – it makes you realise how much work it takes [to succeed]. It might appear like we won the EURO easily but that wasn’t the case at all. Bitter experiences like these Olympics make you fully aware how fine a line there is between success and failure.