Going into the London Olympics one would be forgiven for thinking Spain would take their foot off the pedal slightly in the football category, after not only winning the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, but also the equivalent at Under-19 level last Sunday in Estonia. However, Coach Luis Mila has named an extremely strong side to participate in the Games in just over a week. Aside from star-players such as Juan Mata and captain Javi Martinez, let’s take a look at the younger players who are set to start:
The Catalan winger impressed in 15 League appearances for the Barcelona first team last season. His direct style proved to be disastrous for opposition defenders, scoring within two minutes of his Champions League debut against Bayern Leverkusen. Tello has pace to burn and knows where the back of the net is, but he is clearly still a raw talent. At times his approach looks one dimensional, most notably against Real Madrid last April, where he struggled to make an impact. Spain’s creative midfielders will have to be on form, providing the through-balls Tello feeds on.
Having featured heavily for Chelsea at the beginning of last season, appearances have been few and far between since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked last March. The former Barcelona man will be looking to have a strong Olympic tournament to impress new Coach Roberto Di Matteo. The 20-year-old will be Spain’s main defensive outlet in midfield – his strong physical presence means he is more than capable of fulfilling the position.
The left-winger was arguably unlucky not to be called-up to the senior European Championship-winning team. At only 19, Muniain will be Spain’s biggest up-and-coming star in London. He is also expected to be one of the surest sources of goals, as he scored nine this season for Athletic Bilbao. His strong dribbling capabilities will also be exploited, but Muniain’s ability to hold up the ball while waiting for support will be his most vital asset.
Marseille’s energetic right-back has been a consistent part in Spain’s defence at almost every level since the age of 15. Having recovered after being on the sidelines for six months with ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee, the 22-year-old will be keen to win as this will most likely be his final underage tournament. Azpilicueta’s ability to bomb down the right flank and his experience will certainly be essential if Spain wish to go all the way.
The midfielder was a colossal part of the Athletic Bilbao team that reached both the Europa League and Copa Del Rey finals last season. Dubbed the 'Spanish Steven Gerrard’, his performances for the Basque club have caught the eye of several of Europe’s top clubs. Herrera would often be the one supplying Bilbao’s star-striker Fernando Llorente with the decisive pass, as he finished with nine assists in the 2011-12 campaign. The 22-year-old will anchor Spain’s midfield as the playmaker in a deep-lying role, as his defensive contribution is often overlooked but cannot be downplayed.