Jul 25 2012
By Gordon Parks
Queens Park and Scotland ground Hampden Park
THE OLYMPICS are in town. This is it, I thought.
An hour later the media assembled inside Hampden were looking at each other and asking: “Is that it?”
Spain and Japan had brought their football teams to the National Stadium for a look around and a press conference ahead of their clash tomorrow afternoon.
But representatives from both camps looked like they would rather have been anywhere else.
Clearly, nobody had told them talking this game up might just have filled in some of the thousands of empty spaces that will greet them when they run out.
Or maybe they just decided if the Glasgow public isn’t interested why should they bother?
Perhaps it was just being stuck in roadworks on the way to Mount Florida that made the Spanish mood as dark as the clouds overhead.
Or the sorry shambles at the security gate which saw Spanish boss Luis Milla and skipper Javi Martinez initially refused entry and threatened with being bounced out of the National Stadium. Whatever it was, it was enough for their Olympic footballers to show what they thought of their Glasgow welcome by rushing through a press conference and beating a hasty retreat back on to their team bus.
It was a farce on the south side of the city as sausage roll munching roadside workies took a breather and wondered what all the fuss was about.
The Olympics were in town along with their rings of steel and, to put it politely, the tournament favourites did a runner after an organisational flop.
Spain will kick off their bid to land gold at the London Games tomorrow and they have come with three big guns from their the Euro 2012 squad.
Armed with Chelsea’s Juan Mata, Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Bilbao’s Martinez, the all-conquering pass masters of Europe fancy more silverware. But yesterday they struggled to get past Hampden’s version of passport control.
Manchester United keeper David de Gea is also included just for good measure in the 22-man squad but boss Milla admits it’s unfair to burden his talented troop with lofty expectations.
He said: “We carry the responsibility of representing the country at the Olympics but are taking it day by day.
“It’s not fair the players are under the same pressure as the seniors because the senior team are so good.
“Playing at international level, there will be an expectation that we reach the heights of the senior team but we are taking it one match at a time.”
Milla wouldn’t have needed to do much homework about the weather conditions his team will face as one look outside his hotel window would have sufficed.
But he’s convinced a rain-soaked pitch will suit his side. The Spanish boss said: “I understand this is the weather here.
“It rains a lot but a wet pitch can suit our style of play. It’s also the same for Japan because they have fast, technical players who can benefit from the conditions.”
History doesn’t hold out much hope for Japan who have failed to beat the Spanish at any level but Milla won’t be taking anything for granted against a team he believes are improving quickly.
He said: “We respect Japan because we know they have good players who are in top condition for the tournament.
“Japan have improved at all levels. With the motivation of playing at the Olympics against a team like Spain I don’t doubt it will be a difficult game.
“They have done well in the warm-up games and my team needs to be switched on for all aspects of this game.”
Milla, who is sweating on the fitness of Bilbao forward Iker Muniain, also played down Spain’s favourites tag before making his sharp exit.
He said: “I don’t like to talk about favourites. Given the history and culture the other teams have it’s not easy to pick out a favourite.
“Team GB are the home team so that will help them while Brazil will always be mentioned. But you can’t write off the other sides given the strength of squads they’ve brought to the tournament.
“My players are all in good condition. Iker hasn’t trained for a week but we think he will be OK. He’s having a test this afternoon and after that we will have more news on his condition.”
Muniain’s Bilbao team-mate Martinez was also brief in his assessment of Spain’s chances. But the skipper insists the superstars in Milla’s squad are all geared up for more glory.
He said: “I’m one of three players who also played for Spain at the Euros and we have the same motivation for the Olympics as any other competition.
“Getting three points in the first game is always important because it helps with your chances of getting through to the knockout stages.
“But Spain lost in the opening game of the World Cup to Switzerland and drew the Euro opener against Italy. We ended up winning both of those tournaments so it’s not fatal if we fail to win.”
Japanese coach Takashi Sekizuka spent half an hour at the security gate before being granted entry and he’s hoping their Olympic experience is worth the wait.
He said: “The time has come to show what we have been working for in the last two years has been worthwhile.
“The Olympics are a high priority for the Japanese federation in the build-up to the next World Cup.
“This is the first step towards making an impact at the World Cup and we will playing with a pride.
“We are looking forward to the Spain game and it will have a big impact on the group. We’ve been doing well in the build-up and need to continue that.”
Japanese skipper Maya Yoshida said: “The team has been preparing for two years and the excitement is increasing.
“I want to show the world what we can do against Spain.”