Spain's soccer dominance takes unexpected hit with second straight loss and early Olympic exit

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsJuly 29, 2012

The world's leading soccer nation suffered a humiliating exit from the Olympic Games on Sunday after being on the wrong end of a major upset for the second straight game.

Spain, which has won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, will not add a gold medal to that list of glorious accolades thanks to its 1-0 defeat to Honduras at St James's Park in Newcastle.

Even though the Olympic men's tournament does not hold the same level of prestige in soccer as other major championships, mainly due to the fact that it features teams of under-23 players, Spain's proud soccer community was still stunned by this unexpected setback.

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Perhaps most surprising of all was that the chief architect of the Spanish's demise came from a player from Major League Soccer, a league that despite making recent strides is still a long way behind its European counterparts.

Jerry Bengtson of the New England Revolution scored the Honduras goal, but it was Roger Espinoza of Sporting Kansas City that tortured the Spanish defense with his sharp runs and delicate passing to set up a memorable triumph that had the Central Americans celebrating wildly on the pitch.

Following the country's victory in Euro 2012 this summer, Spanish fans and its soccer federation seemed just as proud of having a talented new generation ready to replace its old guard as it was of winning a third consecutive major title. Yet, judging by the past few days, there is clearly work to be done.

A stunning 1-0 loss to Japan was followed up by Sunday's defeat, which meant the Spanish will have nothing but pride to play for in their final group clash with Morocco on Wednesday.

Honduras is rated as a nation 62 spots behind Spain, which is streets ahead of anyone else at No.1 in the FIFA world rankings. Of course, that mark is based on the full men's sides, but it also gives a fair indicator of the relative strength of the two countries.

But the Hondurans drew some inspiration and belief from their impressive run through the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, an event that the United States could not progress from, even though it was staged in Nashville last March.

"We believed in ourselves," Espinoza said. "When you believe then great things can happen."

Honduras was not fazed by the prospect of taking on Spain and made an impression early. Espinoza's perfect cross from the left found Bengtson, who produced a powerful header into the net after just seven minutes.

[ Photos: World soccer ]

Spain did not have its biggest stars like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Iker Casillas to call upon. But in Jordi Alba, Javier Martinez and Juan Mata, it still had three members of its victorious Euro 2012 squad, plus Manchester United's first-choice goalkeeper David de Gea.

Instead of responding in the manner that might be expected, the Spanish players seemed to uncharacteristically drop their heads. Mata still had as much determination as ever, but the attitude of several of his colleagues suggested they would rather be lying on a beach than stuck in the northeast of England, 300 miles away from London.

Iker Muniain struck a post for Spain in the second half but so did Epsinoza for Honduras. Although the Europeans had more possession, as ever, they could not convert.

No goals, no points and no chance of progress is not an outcome that anyone expected for this talented young Spain side going into the tournament, but there can be few complaints – the Spanish soccer juggernaut is far from being knocked off track.

However, this sorry Olympic saga means that, just for a while, Spain's bragging rights must be tempered a little.

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