Olympics Group D Preview: Spain aim to continue reign of tiki-taka

Luis Milla's men should emerge as group winners without breaking sweat, while Japan and Morocco will be fighting it out for second at the expense of whipping boys Honduras
By Liam Twomey

Many local eyes will no doubt be preoccupied with following the fortunes of Team GB elsewhere, but Group D should also yield its fair share of entertainment.

Pitting Spain, Japan, Honduras and Morocco against each other, its blend of proven quality with a dash of the unknown is capable of providing a spectacle to match any in the group stages.

Goal.com assesses all four Group D teams, highlighting the players who might just attract the attention of watching scouts and fans worldwide.



They are the current European champions at senior, Under-21 and, as of earlier this month, Under-19 level, as well as the reigning world champions. It is hard to remember another time when one nation dominated the international stage so utterly.

Spain’s Olympic record, however, harks back to before the age of tiki-taka, and is somewhat less formidable. Their last appearance came 12 years ago, in 2000, losing on penalties to Cameroon with a side which featured, among others, Xavi and Carles Puyol.

The current crop are not exactly bad either. Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez all tasted glory in Poland and Ukraine earlier this summer, while many others would almost certainly have also been at the tournament had they been born anything other than Spanish.


That Spain managed to win Euro 2012 with Juan Mata on the pitch for only a few minutes says far more about one of the best international teams ever than it does about the Chelsea star.

Far more proven on the big stage than any of the fancied Brazilians and seemingly at the peak of powers, he has the opportunity and the ability to make this his tournament.


After a highly distinguished 16-year playing career which included stints with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, Luis Milla eventually moved into coaching Spain’s youth teams.

Spells with the Under-19s and Under-20s followed, but it was with the Under-21s that Milla enjoyed his greatest success, reaching the final of the 2010 European Championship before winning the competition last year – with many of those players included in this squad.


Boasting a squad overflowing with quality and the weight of recent international success, only a fool would tip Spain to do anything other than breeze through Group D and, probably, win the whole thing.



It is difficult to see anyone in Group D doing much to hinder the Spanish juggernaut, but Japan are undoubtedly the likeliest banana skin for La Roja.

Japan have been ever-present in the Olympic football tournament since Atlanta 1996, although Sydney in 2000 was the only time they have ever made it beyond the group stage.

But the class of 2012 have a good chance of reversing that trend – despite the shock omissions of Manchester United new boy Shinji Kagawa and Arsenal’s Ryo Miyaichi – thanks to what is still arguably their strongest squad in over a decade.


Takashi Usami is well used to this sort of billing. He made headlines in Germany when he was loaned to Bayern Munich at the age of 19 last year after bursting into the Gamba Osaka first team, but lost out in the fierce competition for places at one of Europe’s giants.

Now set to spend a season at Hoffenheim, this versatile attacking midfielder is determined to secure regular football, and knows an impressive Olympic showing can only help his cause.


Takashi Sekizuka enjoyed a reasonably short and modest senior playing career with Honda FC in Japan’s top flight in the 1980s before turning his hand to club management.

He was appointed Under-23 coach at the start of 2010 after managing J-League sides Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale, and led them to victory in the Asian Games that summer.

Sekizuka is also currently the assistant of Alberto Zaccheroni, manager of the senior side.


Japan will rightly go into their opening clash with Spain as underdogs, but should have more than enough to see off Honduras and Morocco in the fight for second place.



Honduras embark on this tournament with little in the way of pressure but armed with the knowledge their national game has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years.

Striker David Suazo is reasonably well known in Italy after spells with Cagliari and Inter while fans in Britain will be familiar with Emilio Izaguirre, Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa. Of those four, though, only Figueroa makes the Olympics squad as one of the over-age picks.

In South Africa 2010 they made only their second ever World Cup appearance, while this will also be their third time on the Olympic football stage.


Figueroa is the only easily recognisable member of a Honduras squad which contains only five men who play their football outside their homeland.

Surrounded by team-mates who have never competed at this level, Figueroa’s Premier League experience will be vital if humiliation is to be avoided.


Luis Suarez (no, not that one) enjoyed considerable success managing in his native Colombia, winning the national championship in 1999 with Atletico Nacional.

His reward was a spell in charge of Ecuador, who he led to their best ever World Cup showing in 2006, losing to England in the second round after a David Beckham free-kick.


Honduras lost all three of their group matches at Beijing in 2008 without scoring. Qualification for the knockout stages this time would be a huge shock.



The Atlas Lions’ qualification for this tournament comes at a time when the national team is in dire need of fresh impetus, without a World Cup appearance to its name since 1998.

London 2012 will be Morocco’s seventh Olympic football competition, but the previous six yielded little joy, and the country is still waiting to taste the knockout stages.

With a mighty Spain and an improving Japan to overcome, progress will not be easy, but wily old Dutch coach Pim Verbeek might just have a trick or two up his sleeve.


After three years of struggling to break into Paris Saint-Germain’s first team, Abdelaziz Barrada eventually gave up and moved to Getafe in 2010 and became a regular last season.

Now Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is thought to be an admirer of the buccaneering midfielder, and these Olympics could prove the perfect shop window.


Morocco cannot boast the most illustrious squad at London 2012 but, in Verbeek, they may well lay claim to having the most experienced manager.

After spending the entirety of his playing days in his native Netherlands, he retired in 1980 and embarked on a 31-year coaching career which has taken him around the globe.

Widely renowned and respected, Verbeek will have no shortage of knowledge to impart on his players, even as he enters his first Olympic football tournament.


With Spain expected to romp away with Group D, Morocco’s clashes with Honduras, and particularly Japan, will make or break their slim hopes of progression.

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