Tokyo Olympic Games Men’s Soccer Preview – Group C (Spain, Argentina, Egypt, Australia)
Spain enters the Olympic tournament with such a distinct competitive advantage over its rivals that it borders on injustice. As a general rule, clubs in the best European leagues are not required to release players for the Olympics as the tournament is not recognized as part of the official FIFA calendar. The only exception concerns Spanish players exercising their profession at national level in La Liga. By national law, top Spanish clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona must allow their local stars to go for gold at the Olympics.
Taking advantage of the arrangement, manager Luis de la Fuente has named six players to the Olympic squad which reached the European Championships semi-final with the senior team from Spain earlier in July. La Liga goalkeeper Unai simon, defenders Eric Garcia and Pau Torres, Midfielder Pedro and forward Mikel Oyarzabal all have made a significant contribution to Spain’s race to EURO 2020, as has the striker Dani Olmo, who was released by his German club RB Leipzig.
With their embarrassment at the wealth of the senior national team, Spain will be aiming for a second Olympic gold in men’s football after taking home victory at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
YOUNG PLAYER TO WATCH – Pedri
The sensational 18-year-old creative midfielder from Barcelona has won comparisons to Spain legend Andres Iniesta due to his game over the past 12 months. Against Italy in the EURO 2020 semi-finals, Pedri managed 61 of 62 assists in 120 minutes in a game Spain ultimately lost on penalties, leaving team general manager Luis Enrique to short of words. “His performances, the way he reads the game, the way he finds space, his quality, his personality, I’ve never seen anything like it, not even Andres Iniesta,” Enrique said. “It’s absolutely impossible to explain.”
Although they were powerless to stop him, Barcelona have expressed extreme concern that the inclusion of Pedri on the Euros list and the Olympic team after a long club season would leave the teenager overworked. Although Pedri assured his club that he will arrive for the season well rested, telling the Spanish radio show “El Transistor”, “I love playing football and will be happy to continue playing.”
Pedri plays for Spain at the 2020 European Championships
VETERINARY LEADER – Marco Asensio
In recent years, things have not gone as planned for 25-year-old Marco Asensio, who for several years has been a centerpiece of the future of Spanish football. The Real Madrid winger has been slow to regain his best form after an ACL tear in 2019 and has – temporarily, he hopes – fallen out of favor with the senior national team. However, he brings to the Olympics one of the most valuable international experiences a 25-year-old could hope to offer. Asensio has been a factor in the traditionally strong image of the Spanish national youth team since 2012. He helped guide Spain to victory at the European Under-19 Championships in 2015 and up to the Euro U-21 final in 2017, losing to Germany. In 2018, Asensio represented Spain at the FIFA World Cup, where La Roja got disappointingly excited in the quarter-final against host country Russia. In total, Asensio has scored 16 goals in 52 appearances for Spain at all levels.
SPAIN OLYMPIC TEAM
Goalkeepers: Álvaro Fernández (Huesca), Unai Simón (Athletic Bilbao), Álex Domínguez (Las Palmas)
Defenders: Óscar Mingueza (Barcelona), Jesús Vallejo (Granada), Eric García (Barcelona), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Óscar Gil (Espanyol), Juan Miranda (Real Betis)
Midfielder : Marc Cucurella (Getafe), Jon Moncayola (Osasuna), Martín Zubimendi (Real Sociedad), Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid), Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad), Carlos Soler (Valencia), Pedri González (Barcelona)
Forward: Bryan Gil (Seville), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Rafa Mir (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Javier Puado (Espanyol)