Olympics: Upbeat Juan Mata aims to add to his recent medal haul
Winning an Olympic gold medal would crown a stellar year for Spain playmaker Juan Mata.
The 24-year-old forward has already lifted three major trophies this season, after winning the Champions League and the FA Cup with Chelsea in May, and the European Championship with the Spanish national team earlier this month.
Mata struggled to get playing time at Euro 2012 because of Spain’s depth in attack, but went on as a late substitute in the final against Italy to score the last goal in a 4-0 rout. Now, the Olympic side will be counting on his experience. Spain, who also won the 2010 World Cup, open their Olympic campaign in Group D against Japan today at Hampden, which earlier hosts the Honduras versus Morrocco tie.
“For me, this competition is an opportunity to round off a fantastic year, after winning the Champions League with my club and the European Championship with the national team,” Mata said. “Furthermore, it’s always a thrill to be part of an Olympic Games, because, in the life of a footballer, perhaps you only get one chance.”
Mata, captain Javi Martinez and Jordi Alba, all involved in the victorious Euro 2012 team, are the three over-age players in the under-23 Olympic squad.
And Mata, who plays in an advanced role similar to national team playmaker Andres Iniesta, believes the younger players in the Olympic team have what it takes to get off to a good start against Japan. “The group is young and with an abundance of quality,” Mata said. “It’s also a group committed to the team [ethic], and they have experience in Spain’s first division. We also have varying styles of play, footballers who know how to play on the wings, those who do better inside.” He added: “This allows us to change our way of attacking opponents. Our football is colourful and draws attention. It’s the best way, the best path to try to win.”
The different ways of playing will come in handy against a quick and attacking Japan team, which scored 17 goals in eight games to qualify for the London Games. Japan lost only once during the qualifying campaign. “Japan is an intense team, dynamic, which pressures well,” Mata said. “They’re co-ordinated in their movement, and when it comes to defending.”
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