Yawn… not another trophy for Spain?!
JULY 26 — I must say, these Spanish footballers are getting rather greedy.
Already champions of the world; already champions of Europe; already European youth champions at both under-21 and under-19 level. And now they’re talking about adding Olympic gold to their already overflowing collection of honours. Come on amigos, let someone else have a go!
They’ve got every chance of doing it, as well. Coach Luis Milla has called upon a strong group of players for the tournament that begins today, including three who were part of the Euro 2012 winning squad less than a month ago: new Barcelona signing Jordi Alba, one of the stars of the Euros; Chelsea’s Juan Mata, who came off the bench to score in the final, and Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez, another Barcelona transfer target but valued at £35 million (RM172 million) by his club.
Add to that group Manchester United’s goalkeeper David De Gea, Marseille defender César Azpilicueta (who has nearly 200 senior club appearances under his belt) and Bilbao wonderkid Iker Muniain, and it’s plain to why see another Spanish triumph is on the cards.
Spain get their Olympics campaign under way today against Japan at Hampden Park in Glasgow (9.45pm kick-off Malaysian time), and it will no doubt be a long and hard afternoon for the Japanese, who have added a sprinkling of players from German clubs into their predominantly home-based squad.
The tournament itself kicks off a couple of hours earlier at the same venue, with Morocco taking on Honduras in the other Group D game. Looking at that group of four, the only conclusion is that the draw has been kind to Spain’s young stars, who shouldn’t be stretched too hard to finish in the top two and progress to the next stage.
Once they’re into the knockout phase, though, it will be an entirely different matter because there are plenty of strong teams in this Olympic tournament. In fact the favourites to win gold — even ahead of Spain — are Brazil, who have the pressure of living up to enormous expectations as they prepare to host the World Cup finals in two years’ time.
That is especially the case for Neymar, who has long been billed as the next greatest player in the world (no less an authority than Pele has stated his belief that Neymar is better than Lionel Messi).
Neymar, still only 20, came through the youth ranks at one of Brazil’s most famous clubs, Santos, and made his first-team debut three years ago at the age of 17. Sensational performance followed sensational performance, goals flowed aplenty — including one on his international debut in 2010 — and the hype has been growing ever since.
For now, Neymar remains a Santos player, thanks to a sponsorship deal that allows him to earn almost as much as he would in Europe, but it is surely only a matter of time until he crosses the Atlantic to further his career and follow the dollars.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been heavily linked with the Brazilian prodigy — so too have West Ham, who it’s fair to say are probably near the back of the queue.
But Brazil are about far more than just Neymar. Other attacking talent at their disposal includes AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato and one of the most prolific scorers in European football over the last few years, Porto star Hulk.
Brazil’s youthful midfield should also be well worth watching, containing as it does Oscar, who yesterday moved to Chelsea for £25 million, Ganso, Neymar’s highly-rated teammate at Santos, and teenage Sao Paulo sensation Lucas, who Manchester United are currently attempting to lure to Old Trafford.
And at the back, there’s the steadying influence of Thiago Silva, who became the second most expensive defender in football history with his recent move from AC Milan to Paris St Germain.
Another strong South American challenge will come from Uruguay, who won last year’s Copa America and can call upon arguably the tournament’s most potent attacking duo in Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani.
And it would be unwise to write off the chances of the four nations from Africa, who have traditionally enjoyed great success in the Olympics — Nigeria won the tournament in 1996, Cameroon did the same four years later, and Nigeria again reached the final in Beijing in 2008. This time around, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and Gabon are the contestants.
Looking at that bunch, you’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Great Britain coach Stuart Pearce, who was prevented from picking his best players by an agreement that no England players who participated at Euro 2012 could be included in his squad.
Another blow came with the injury pull-out of Gareth Bale — who strangely was subsequently fit enough to play nearly a full game and score for Tottenham in their pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy earlier this week. Suspicious indeed.
So while other managers were happily picking Neymar, Hulk, Alba, Mata, Suarez, et al, Pearce was left with little option but to write the unheralded names of Marvin Sordell and Jack Cork on his squad sheet. With Senegal and Uruguay in the same group, there’s every chance that Pearce’s improvised group will be making an early exit.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.