London 2012 Olympics fact file – Group D

Spain

With many predicting a gold medal for the South American contingent at this year’s Olympic football tournament, they may want to take a second look at a Spanish side who already have several full internationals and a squad which many countries would be extremely envious of. With players such as Chelsea’s Juan Mata, who flourished in his first season in the Premier League last season, and rising stars of La Liga in Jordi Alba, Iker Muniain and Ander Herrera, Spain are a team that must be considered as serious contenders for taking the Gold this summer.

Coach Luis Milla knows his players very well, and it was his U-21 team that secured qualification to the tournament by winning the 2011 UEFA European U-21 Championship, with several of those players achieving promotion, along with himself, to the Olympic team.

Coach – Luis Milla: Having retired from professional football in 2001, where he enjoyed a playing career with three of the great Spanish clubs in Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, he moved into management in 2006. Having managed the Spanish U-19 and U-20 sides from 2008 to 2010, he progressed to manage the U-21 team in 2010, and now has been given the chance to manage the Spanish Olympic team for 2012.

One to Watch – Jordi Alba: Attacking full-back Jordi Alba flourished at Valencia last season, with his pace and agility earning him a place in the Spanish national side for the successful campaign at Euro 2012. His impressive form last season did not go unnoticed by Spanish giants Barcelona, who snapped up the exciting talent at the end of the previous campaign, and he will be looking for an impressive Olympics display to guarantee his starting place at Barcelona next season.

Morocco

Not many will regard Morocco as a favourite for a medal at this year’s Olympic Games, but current Coach Pim Verbeek has very different ideas. Speaking after their team lost in the final of the 2011 CAF African U-23 Championship to Gabon, the Dutchman had this to say:

“We failed to win the championship, but we will get out revenge at London 2012. We are not just going to make up the numbers, we are aiming for a medal.”

His team had performed impressively during the African U-23 tournament last year, and he will be hoping the good form continues going into the Olympics in London. Although many of the players may not be household names, they are diversely spread across Europe giving them the experience of playing at a high level of football throughout the top leagues. Players from teams such as Getafe, PSV, Montpellier and Fiorentina are included in their squad, and they will be hoping they can go all the way in their first Olympic appearance since 2004.

Coach – Pim Verbeek: Dutch Coach Pim Verbeek took charge of the Moroccan U-23 team in 2010 having left his previous job of managing the Australian national team. Beginning his management in the Dutch leagues with the likes of Feyenoord and FC Groningen, his vast experience along with his previous international experience at South Korea and Australia may prove to be vital for Morocco’s hopes of a medal this time round.

One to Watch – Abdelaziz Barrada: A regular for Spanish side Getafe having begun his career with PSG, the combative central midfielder helped his team to an impressive 11th place finish in La Liga last time out, and will hope he can inspire his Moroccan teammates to an equally impressive performance.

Honduras

This will only be the third time that Honduras have reached the Olympics, and they will be striving to improve on their previous appearance in 2008 in Beijing. The team did not manage to gain a single point during that tournament, but coach Luis Suarez is proud of his team‘s achievements so far:

“Honduras are showing what they are capable of these days. That’s why we reached the last World Cup. We’ve been doing things really well lately, and to make the Olympic Games with only 16 teams, is a big achievement whichever way you look at it.”

With several of the players in the squad experiencing an international tournament for the first time, expectations will not be great for a very young and inexperienced team. Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa is one of the over-age players in the squad, and the Honduran fans will hope that he will be the player to make the difference in what looks to be a tough group to get out of. In their first ever appearance at an Olympics in Sydney 2000, they managed to earn four points, unfortunately not enough to progress in the competition. If the team can match this points tally in London this year, the fans and players can be very proud of their nation’s efforts.

Coach – Luis Fernando Suarez: The former Ecuador manager took charge of the Honduras U-23 team in 2011, and will be hoping his previous international experience will serve him well in his quest for success with Honduras. During his time at Ecuador, he managed to qualify from the group and reach the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup. If he manages to get out of the group this time round, it will be a terrific achievement for Suarez.

One to Watch – Maynor Figueroa: The Honduran left-back is the standout player in a squad very much based around the lower leagues of the professional game. During his four years with Premier League side Wigan, he has proven himself to be a very solid and reliable player, showing both defensive and attacking qualities which have seen him gain interest from a variety of top European clubs throughout his stay in England.

Japan

Japan are one of three Asian teams to have qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London, along with South Korea and United Arab Emirates, and they will go into the tournament with arguably the best chance of any of the trio to pick up a medal. They have dominated qualifying in Asia for several years, earning them a place in the last three Olympic Games. During qualifying for London 2012, Japan only lost one game, scoring 17 goals and only conceding six in a total of eight games played.

Although without star player Shinji Kagawa, who recently signed for Manchester United, their success has been based more on team ethic than a sole hope resting on one player. Hiroshi Kiyotake, Takashi Usami, Gotoku Sakai, Yuki Otsu and Hiroki Sakai are all included in the squad, who all currently play in the top leagues of German football and will provide a great asset to the team in terms of European experience. Japan will be looking to qualify from the group, and will be hoping that they can come close to matching their performance in the Olympics held in Mexico in 1968, where they shocked the world of football by grabbing a Bronze medal.

Coach – Takashi Sekizuka: Sekizuka may not be very well known to most of us, but for supporters of J-League club Kawasaki Frontale he is nothing short of a legend. Achieving promotion to the J-League in his first season in charge, he managed to get the team to a second place finish for three years out of four, between 2005 and 2009, earning him a chance to manage the Japan U-23 National team in 2010.

One to Watch – Hiroki Sakai: One of five players in the squad based in the German Bundesliga, Sakai currently plays for Hannover 96 after recently moving to Germany following an impressive spell in Japanese football with Kashiwa Reysol, where he won the J1 League title in 2011 and Super Cup in 2012. His summer move to Hannover 96 for just under £1m shows his current value for both club, and he will hope, for country too.

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