Manchester – When the Spanish Football Federation produces a highlight video of 2012, officials will be sure they will leave out Spain's high publicized Olympic misadventure.
The Summer Games turned out to be an absolute disaster for Spain, which was touted as gold-medal favorites by every expert from here to Madrid to Barcelona to Los Angeles.
And for good reason.
Spain is in the midst of its golden age. Over the past four years, the Spaniards have dominated the soccer world, winning two Euro crowns -- 2008 and 2012 -- and the 2010 World Cup. Many of the players from last year's Euro Under-21 champions were on the team.
Plus, this team had the experience of three established professional who played on that Euro championship side several weeks ago -- Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and Javi Martinez.
Instead, its Olympic experience was fraught with high expectations and wound up with some real low realizations that no one would have predicted:
* No goals over 270 confounding minutes.
* One point in three games.
* Bottom of Group D with a 0-2-1 record.
* A 13th place ranking out of 16 teams.
How embarrassing for one of the world's great soccer powers.
"We lost the three matches at the Olympic Games and that's a disgrace," Mata said.
Could not have said it any better than myself.
Who would have known that the team would wind up make reservations for flights back home after its second game, instead of plans of playing in the knockout round and beyond?
La Roja started with a 1-0 loss to Japan and followed that up with a 1-0 defeat to Honduras, in ill-tempered matched that featured 13 yellow cards, seven on Spain. That loss to the Hondurans eliminated -- yes, eliminated -- Spain from the competition. Wednesday's scoreless draw with Morocco at Old Trafford was more about trying to save face, but the team wound up with more egg -- a soccer Spanish omelete, perhaps? -- than anything else.
Actually, the team did play like Spain's full national side -- up to a point. The players surely can pass around the ball, but when they get into scoring range, they don't have players with killer instincts that can finish things off. Plus, they lacked true impact young players such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol.
"We don't have an explanation for what happened," Alba said after Wednesday's game. "We leave without scoring a goal, which isn't what Spain is used to. We are upset because we are out of the Olympics, we are angry for not getting further, but the team gave its very best."
If one play typified Spain's incompetence in finding the net, it occurred in the 31st minute. That's when four players combined for some nifty passing in some close quarter. The ball went from Iker Muniain to Isco to Mata to Adrian Lopez in a matter of seconds. Lopez found room charged down the right side of the penalty area, and blasted his shot off the right post.
Pretty build up, ugly finish.
"It's seems we have had very bad luck, but that's part of football," Lopez said. "We did all we could to play a good match; we tried but failed."
If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the Spaniards were going out of their way not to score, their ineptness at finishing was so apparent.
Around the 70th minute, Lopez was involved in perhaps a stranger play as he raced in the left side, thought he was offside, slowed down, figured out he was onside and got off a weak shot that dribbled wide left.
"He thought he was offside and when he realized he wasn't it was too late to do anything about it," Spain coach Luis Milla said.
Asked how embarrassed he was about the fact Spain could not find the back of the net, Milla replied, "It's frustrating and it is a desperate situation. It's more about the elimination in general but also we have to think about this fact of the goals. To not score a single goal is strange. We created chances but if we don't take them we can't score. If we had taken these chances we'd be looking at a minimum of six points."
Instead, his team had but one -- after it had been eliminated.
A little later in the press conference, Milla second guessed himself, admitting that Spain's preparations might not have been to gold-medal standards.
"We came here with great expectations for the tournament, though perhaps we were lacking a tiny bit of preparation, maybe one extra build-up game or one extra training day," he said.
No doubt Spain was lacking in many ways and the team has paid for it with a surprising and early trip home.
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He is in Columbus to cover Sunday’s game, and can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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