By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The ending was both premature and unexpected. After 180 minutes of football at the Olympic Games, Spain had failed to score a single goal against Japan and Honduras, had conceded two and - inexplicably - lost both games. The tournament favourites were out.
La Roja's representatives could barely believe it. "We had 24 goalscoring chances," said midfielder Javi Martinez after the side's shock defeat at the hands of La Bicolor Olimpica on Sunday. "We should have had two penalties," added Iker Muniain, while coach Luis Milla merely mused: "This team was good enough to win a medal."
But there will be no medal. And unlike most Spain sides over the last few years, in what has been the most successful era in the country's history on the football field, this team will be going home empty-handed.
|MATCH FACTS | Spain 0-1 Honduras
After their surprising loss to Japan earlier in the competition, Spain found themselves in a similar situation to their senior side at the 2010 World Cup: needing to produce the goods in a second group game versus Honduras.
But while Vicente del Bosque's men comfortably claimed a 2-0 win in South Africa, the Under-23 side slipped to defeat in Newcastle on Sunday.
Needing to react following their Japan defeat, Spain got off to the worst possible start as Jerry Bengtson headed the Hondurans in front after seven minutes. The favourites were unable to respond as they were denied by the woodwork, the referee and their own profligate performance in front of goal.
But while their claims for a penalty appeared valid, Spain lacked the confidence and authority synonymous with their football at all age groups in recent times and paid dearly for their failures in front of goal.
Sunday's result may just be the greatest moment in the history of Honduran football. For Spain, though, it is a question of what might have been. Strongly tipped to claim gold 20 years after doing so in Barcelona, La Roja return home early instead. It is a wasted opportunity for a side containing an embarrassment of riches, including Javi Martinez, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, David de Gea, Adrian, Muniain and more.
And after winning Euro 2012 at the beginning of July, it is far from the fairytale finish they had hoped for this summer. Many of those players will now set their sights on Spain's next major tournament, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and there will be plenty of hunger following this disappointment.
To achieve glory in South America, however, they will need to do better than this.
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