Saturday 07 August 2021, 21:20

Vallejo: We can be proud of winning silver

  • Spain’s disappointment about losing the Olympic final soon gave way to pride

  • They never really got to grips with Brazil’s counter-attacking play

  • Malcom gave Jesus Vallejo the slip in extra time before scoring the winning goal

Despite their best efforts, Spain were unable to clinch their second Olympic title after taking gold in 1992. The Iberians started the match well enough, taking Brazil’s sporadic attacking press in their stride and settling into a good rhythm.

Yet events soon took a different turn. First the Brazilians won a penalty that Richarlison fired high into the night sky over Yokohama, before a momentary lapse in concentration from the Spanish defence caused them to concede their first goal on the stroke of half-time.

After that, Spain’s problem was exactly what many had feared it would be ahead of the game – the tremendous challenge of controlling Brazil’s pacy forward line, who slipped past the Spanish defenders time and time again in the opening minutes of the second half. While they could have doubled their lead at this point, it was the Iberians who eventually equalised.

“It’s a shame that we couldn’t create the second goal after our equaliser, as we certainly had opportunities to do so,” said Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon, no doubt thinking of the two times his team-mates struck the crossbar in the latter stages of the match. “Going home with silver is bittersweet because we’re looking at the Brazilians with their gold medals and thinking: ‘That could have been us’. But this generation still has plenty of opportunities to make its mark.”

As the match entered extra time, Spain coach Luis de la Fuente substituted both full-backs, with experienced centre-half Jesus Vallejo coming on at right-back. “I’ve played almost every national team game in that position, and did the same for Granada,” the 24-year-old later explained. “You’ve got to play wherever the coach puts you. Sometimes it goes better, like it did against Japan, and other times it doesn’t go so well, like today.”

Malcom #17 of Team Brazil celebrates after scoring their side's second goal during the Men's Gold Medal Match between Brazil and Spain

These changes were clearly made in the hope of stifling the South Americans’ rapid counter-attacks, but Vallejo eventually came unstuck against Malcom in the 108th minute. “His goal came from a corner; they got the ball and then went on the counter. Malcom got the better of me in a tackle. A penalty shoot-out probably would have been the fairest outcome. Football didn’t reward us for the effort we put in today.”

Vallejo does not believe that Spain need to fundamentally rethink their style of play, but told “They have plenty of extremely fast players. We stuck to our playing style and we need to learn from that. If we as defenders have the ball, we need to stay focused at all times and think about the next ball straight away. We play a very high line, which means we have to do plenty of sprinting.”

While the Real Madrid defender also knows that he was far from happy about the turning point of the gold medal match and that he could probably have defended better, he faced up to both the media and, even more importantly, his team-mates out on the pitch after the final whistle.

Silver medalists of Team Spain react as they leave the pitch after being awarded with their silver medals during the Men's Football Competition Medal Ceremony

“I told them that I wanted to apologise because we all did a great job,” he explained. “We gave it our all in the 40 days we were together, and although it’s hard right now, I think that the more time passes, the more we’ll appreciate what we achieved. We still have one more day left here in Tokyo and we need to keep savouring our medal and the Olympic experience while we’re here.”

Vallejo said all this while clutching his silver medal from Tokyo 2020, which looked particularly big and impressive up close. “We wanted gold, of course, but we can be very proud of silver. Today is a difficult day, but I’m sure that by the time we arrive back in Spain, we’ll be even prouder than we are today.”