Tokyo Olympics 2021: Oyarzabal header rescues Spain

A goal by Mikel Oyarzabal just as we were getting seriously worried has left Spain in a good position in the group, with four points from two games. It should be six, given the quality of opposition they’ve faced, but as long we draw with Argentina in our final group match, we’ll go through. A defeat would most likely send us out, though - a consequence of the unfortunate draw with Egypt, which was made worse by the results that followed. Luis de la Fuente made no fewer than five changes for Spain’s second game, albeit two of those were enforced in the wake of the injuries to Dani Ceballos and Óscar Mingueza. The team showed greater energy against Australia, but was guilty of much the same goal-shyness.

Of the players that came into the side, it was Marc Cucurella who had the greatest impact, offering a bright, zesty performance, his curly locks bouncing in the wind as he got to the byline again and again. Martín Zubimendi was neat and tidy. Carlos Soler, who joined Zubimendi and Pedri in midfield, was energetic and threatened with a few runs into shooting positions. The right-back Óscar Gil was decent enough, although he frequently struggled to contain the winger Daniel Arzani, the Australians’ only quality player. The one newcomer who came up short was Javi Puado on the left wing. On the right, Dani Olmo also underwhelmed. He doesn’t work on that flank: he lacks the ability to beat players and can’t cut inside and shoot on his stronger right foot. Spain’s attack was their weak link.

Oyarzabal's display deserved a goal

Spain improved when De la Fuente freshened things up going forward, throwing on Marco Asensio and Bryan Gil on the wings and deploying Olmo in a deeper role that allowed him to send balls into the box and work himself shooting opportunities. Up top, Rafa Mir came on to partner Oyarzabal. Australia made life easier for Spain by changing to five at the back, with three central defenders who were unable to prevent the match-winning header from Oyarzabal. He was aided by the presence of Mir alongside him, the striker helping to keep the centre-backs occupied, and his good play and hard work - he had hit the bar before then - meant he richly deserved his goal. It’s Spain’s first at the Olympics since Gabri’s in Sydney 21 years ago. It was about time, and it’s a vital strike.