Pool wins offset soccer shock
Spain crashes out of Olympic tournament as swimmers begin to find feet
What goes up, must come down, the saying asserts, and as surely as the Olympic flame will be snuffed out next Sunday to be placed in storage for a further four years, Spain's soccer team will have to wait equally long to add a medal to its national haul that many, taking into account Brazil, believed to be not quite a foregone conclusion but at least purely a matter of color.
But the red of Spain's feared shirt was matched by the blushes of its star-studded side late on Sunday night as La Rojita slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Honduras, a result that eliminated Luis Milla's side after just two matches. After Japan achieved the same scoreline last Thursday, Spain knew the onus on it was to attack the Central Americans, whose opening day tie with Morocco gave it a greater sense of comfort. When, on seven minutes, Jerry Bengtson gave Honduras the lead, the task became that little bit steeper. Almost 90 minutes later, Milla's side was out, though not for want of peppering the Honduran goal during that time. On three occasions the woodwork came to José Mendoza's aid, and at least two decent penalty shouts were waved away by Venezuelan referee Juan Soto.
A common cliché in the sport is that, sometimes, the ball just won't go in, and so it proved for Milla's charges at St. James' Park in Newcastle. Plenty of hand-wringing will ensue as the country dissects a rare failure - these players are the next senior team after all - but a young side with many components, especially those of Bilbao and the Euro 2012 contingent, coming off 60-game seasons, should not be judged too harshly for a night of profligacy. Neither should Japan's surprise win cause too much consternation: the J-League runs from March to December, lending Takashi Sekizuka's players an edge in terms of fitness, as witnessed by the tireless high pressure tactic that knocked Spain's patented tiki-taka out of kilter.
"We are pretty annoyed," said Athletic forward Iker Muniain. "The whole world saw what happened: there were two penalties that weren't given, we hit the post three times and had 24 shots on goal. It also didn't help that the Hondurans wasted so much time. If you blew on them they went down. I don't think we played more than 20 minutes in the second half."
In Honduras, meanwhile, street parties marked a famous victory and the potential end of what the Central American nation terms "the curse": Honduras has never been beyond the first round of a major international tournament. With Japan through after beating Morocco, all Honduras needs to do is avoid defeat against the Africans to defy its historic hoodoo.
The Olympics has so far been fruitless for Spain as a whole. The country has yet to bother the medal table although it did come close on Sunday in the men's 66kg judo competition through Sugoi Uriarte, who lost first to Miklos Ungvari for a place in the final and then fell to a judge's decision in the bronze medal fight against Cho Jun-Ho.
The London Aquatics Center was the focus of Spanish hopes for a first piece of neckwear over the weekend as Mireia Belmonte began her ambitious schedule in the pool. However, despite reaching the final in the 400m individual medley Belmonte trailed in eighth while in the 400m freestyle, her favorite event, the 10-times world and European gold medalist finished 13th.
On Monday, there was better news as Belmonte won her 200m freestyle heat and Melanie Costa also qualified for the semifinals after coming in second in hers. Olympic debutant Beatriz Gómez also qualified in the same event.
After success on Sunday in basketball and handball, the women's water polo side, competing for the first time at the Games, beat China 11-6 while the men's field hockey team earned a tie against Pakistan. Pablo Abián made history by winning Spain's first-ever Olympic badminton match.