Spain’s opening game at the Olympics proved to be a huge disappointment. The bookies’ and pundits’ favourites dropped two points, lost two players to injury - Óscar Mingueza and Dani Ceballos - and relinquished much of their margin for error against Egypt, hardly one of the stronger teams at the Games. Spain played sluggishly, as if influenced by the approach of their opponents, who defended deep and slowed the game down. Luis de la Fuente’s men allowed the Egyptians to bring the ball out too easily and, pretty much throughout, played as if they expected the goal to arrive all by itself. Or as if in football you can also win on points, like in boxing. Now they face Australia and Argentina and, with two to go through from the group, the situation is far from dire. But what happened today wasn't in the script.
Ceballos shines for Spain until being forced off through injury
Chief among the few positives for Spain was Dani Ceballos, who was excellent while he was on the pitch, winning the ball back, orchestrating the team with short and long passes and placing a fine shot against the post. Just before half time, however, he took a heavy blow to the ankle - how involuntary it was, I’m not sure - and had to be replaced. Before then, Mingueza had limped off with a muscle injury and neither player’s substitute was able to fill the void they left. With Ceballos off the field, the Spaniards lost their engine and their conductor. The Egyptians went in for the break feeling rather happy with how things were going; Spain, less so.
After half time, Spain produced a little bit of a reaction. Pedri occupied the area vacated by Ceballos, a position that is his most natural, and he improved as the Spaniards raised the tempo. But that didn’t last long. The minutes began to tick towards the 90 and, in his final window for substitutions, De la Fuente threw on Bryan Gil, Rafa Mir and Carlos Suárez. Things got a little better, mainly down to the influence of Suárez, who brings penetration and bite. But Spain went close no more than twice - efforts by Mir in the 87th minute and Jesús Vallejo in the 93rd - before time ran out. A bad way to start their campaign. Spain's first-choice forward line offered precisely nothing and, as a whole, the team just didn't get going. A real let-down.