It is Friday, July 20. That means we are just five days away from the start of the 2012 London Olympics.
Olympics football begins on July 26 with Spain kicking off their trophy hunt against Japan.
A lot is expected from Spain this summer. To call them reigning champions doesn’t quite do them justice.
After all, they have won the 2010 World Cup, 2011 U-21 European Championship, 2012 European Championship, and now the U-19 Football Championship.
Anything less than gold for Spain would be seen as a disappointment. Many future superstars will be donning La Roja in London next week.
Counter-Attacking Football now continues its 2012 London Olympics coverage by looking at Spain’s roster.
We will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the team, predict the starters, and describe what we expect from the players.
This articles starts this series by looking at the defensive side of La Furia Roja. I will look at the keepers and defenders going into the first match against Japan.
Note: At this point the final 18-man roster has not been announced so CAF will use the 22-man roster for this series.
Manchester United’s David de Gea is clearly the starter here. He had showed tremendous potential at Atletico Madrid, being tabbed as the heir to Iker Casillas.
His move to the Premier League caused concern for many fans, but De Gea improved nearly every match he played from around mid-season.
His positioning on aerial balls is questionable and he has yet to become a leader, but his reflexes and judgement are excellent.
In Spain’s recent victory over Mexico, De Gea showed that they should be confident in having one of the tournament’s best keepers.
Options: David de Gea (Manchester United), Diego Marino (Villarreal), Joel Robles (Atletico Madrid)
The flanks are set with Barcelona youngsters Jordi Alba and Martin Montoya impressing the most. Both players look very poised and mature for their age.
Alba is perhaps the most complete left back in London and will start until he needs rest, but Montoya will have stiff competition from Cesar Azpilicueta.
All three players looked superb against Mexico and each tested the keeper while providing great link up play with their teammates.
Options: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Martin Montoya (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Marseille).
Against both Senegal and Mexico, Spain looked vulnerable to pace and were spread apart far too easily.
A few nice counter attacks from Senegal were enough to beat La Roja and if not for a few nice saves from De Gea, Spain would have lost two straight friendlies.
Communication has been poor and a few good crosses could be enough to beat the Spaniards.
Alvaro Dominguez is the best of the lot, but continues to show inconsistency and a lack of discipline.
Alberto Botia and Mikel San Jose are the two candidates most likely to partner (or replace) Dominguez, but neither has greatly impressed so far.
Options: Alberto Botia (Sporting Gijon), Alvaro Dominguez (Borussia Monchengladbach), Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao).
Just like the senior squad, central defense is the biggest concern for the Olympic squad.
There is no set center back pairing right now and Luis Milla may need to experiment a bit more.
Milla wants to keep Javi Martinez in midfield and the Bilbao star has been phenomenal so far.
He bossed the midfield against Mexico while also providing cover for his center backs. Martinez showed exactly why he is one of the most sought after players in Europe.
If these other players continue to be a liability, however, Milla may opt for using Martinez in the back just like Marcelo Bielsa did last season at Athletic Club.
Those fans expecting a repeat of Spain’s Euro 2012 clean sheet record are likely going to be disappointed.
Not only is the Olympic squad weaker on defense, the midfield is not as good as the first team. The possession-style play will be the same, but execution will not always be there.
Javi Martinez, Isco, and the rest of Spain’s midfield will still be key. They need to maintain possession and limit chances for the opposition.
As good as these young stars are, they are not Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets. A lot will be asked of them, but he defense definitely needs to step it up.
There are a lot of fast, wide teams who can excel on the counter (such as Great Britain and Brazil) so hoarding possession may not be enough for Spain.
Despite the great defensive concerns, Spain will still go into London as one of the favorites.
Luis Milla should consider using two defensive midfielders (Martinez and Oriol Romeu) to give the defense more protection.
Spain is so stacked at midfield that the Olympics U-23 squad already verges on world-class and most have not even been capped under Vicente del Bosque yet.
The talent at midfield and between the posts will take focus off the defense.
If the likes of Adrian Lopez and Iker Munian can continue their great attacking form, the defense may be given a bit more leeway anyway.
July 26 will give us a strong idea of how well Spain’s central defense will hold up as they face Japan in the Group D opener.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of Counter-Attack Football 2012 Olympics coverage as Surya Solanki looks at Spain’s midfield.