Spain eliminated from Olympic soccer tournament
NEWCASTLE, England (AP) It was always going to be tough for Spain's Olympic football team to live up to the lofty standards set by its senior national side.
No one thought they'd fall this short, though.
Spain was eliminated from the men's football tournament at the London Games on Sunday, losing 1-0 to Honduras for a second straight defeat that left it with no chance of advancing from the group stage.
Having been spoiled with success at almost every age level in football lately, Spain entered the games as one of the favorites and looking to add the Olympic title to its World Cup and European Championship trophies. So far, they haven't even scored a goal, losing 1-0 to Japan in their opener.
Against Honduras at St. James' Park, Spain fell behind in the seventh minute and could never recover.
"The team was tense from the beginning because they knew that they had to score to qualify for the next round," coach Luis Milla said. "And the early goal made it harder."
Forward Jerry Bengtson scored for Honduras after a counterattack down the left side. Andy Najar passed to fellow midfielder Roger Espinoza, who fired in a cross as Bengtson cut inside. The striker jumped over a defender to power in a header past Spain goalkeeper David De Gea.
Spain's players uncharacteristically lost their cool after that, as the intensity and aggression picked up throughout the game. Spain picked up seven yellow cards and Honduras six.
When the halftime whistle was blown, one of Spain's substitutes sparked a scuffle with Honduras players that spilled into the tunnel.
Milla acknowledged that the team may have been daunted by the task of trying living up to the high expectations.
"Yes, it's possible that the pressure was there, but they are players who play at the highest level," Milla said. "The coaching staff has to analyze what led to the elimination. We have to find out what happened."
Spain pressured throughout much of the second half, but couldn't come closer than hitting the crossbar.
"The only thing that was missing was a goal," Milla said. "We deserved to win the match."
As the second half wore on, forward Iker Muniain angrily accused Honduras goalkeeper Jose Mendoza of time-wasting. Muniain, who was booked, had several chances to equalize. So many times in fact, that when he didn't score, he started kicking the turf in frustration.
The attention of Spain's players then turned to the referee after they twice appealed for penalties late in the match. "I don't want to speak about the referee, but I think Spain should have been awarded a penalty," Milla said.
The behavior of Spain's players started to irk the crowd of 26,523 and they started to chant for their opponents.
"It's very nice that we heard the crowd supporting us and shouting 'Honduras, Honduras,'" Bengtson said. "We want to thank them and dedicate this win to them."
Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez admitted his team was lucky to come out of the match with all three points.
"Things went our way tonight, because Spain could have come back to tie or win the game," Suarez said. "We have to remain calm as we look to qualify, because the next match will be very hard."
The Central Americans are now in second place in Group D with four points and will next face leader Japan, which has six. Few thought Honduras would make much of an impact at the tournament, but the country is starting to look like a dark horse.
"It was a tense second half," Bengtson said "They had lots of chances and we did well to keep calm when they were threatening. It was very hard work. We played so well to beat Spain."