Spain are champions of Europe and holders of the World Cup, and many were expecting them to add Olympic gold to their list of honours in 2012. With stars like Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez all in the squad, surely it was either Spain or Brazil to win the final? Turns out these Olympics aren't quite a foregone conclusion.
Japan sank the favourites 1-0 thanks to strong defending, a wicked counterattack and a red card to Inigo Martinez before halftime. Spain started strongly, holding possession in the style of the senior team, but Japan struck just after the half-hour mark, when poor defending from a corner left Yuki Otsu completely free to volley past David de Gea. It was 1-0 Japan -- a recoverable score -- but things went from bad to worse when Inigo Martinez grabbed Kensuke Nagai's shirt and yanked him down when he was looking to go clean through on goal.
It was a clear red card offence, and off Martinez went. Spain are good, but ten men against eleven is always a tough ask, and Japan were able to exploit the spaces left behind the Spanish fullbacks to set up some very good counterattacking play. Indeed, they had two chances to extend their lead in the second half, only for Kiroshi Hyotake to shoot wide of de Gea's post each time.
The expected Spanish push did eventually materialise, but the Japanese defence held and Shuichi Gonda was equal to everything that did get through. It was actually Japan who had the best chance of the late stages when Nagai robbed Oriol Romeu and sauntered into to penalty box, denied only by an excellent save from de Gea. Then Hotaru Yamaguchi skied a shot from eight yards while completely free. That, more or less, would be that, and for the third major tournament in a row, Spain ended up with a disappointing result (and performance) in their first game.
That hasn't stopped them winning in the past, of course, so it's not time to write this team off. But they've made it much more difficult on themselves with this loss. Japan, meanwhile, will be thrilled. They've just navigated a very difficult challenge and, poor finishing aside, come out of it with flying colours.