Real Madrid midfielder and former Arsenal loanee Dani Ceballos is relishing the prospect of combining with Spain’s Olympic head coach Luis de la Fuente in Tokyo, having previously worked with him at Under-19 level.
Spain head into the Tokyo Olympics as one of the favourites for the gold medal, given De la Fuente has been able to call upon six players that reached the semi-final stages at Euro 2020 with the senior national side.
The names of their star-studded line-up would be enough to frighten any Olympic opposition as they have included Pedri, Unai Simon, Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal, Eric Garcia and Pau Torres.
While the players on the pitch paint an attractive picture that could see Spain win their second gold and first since 1992, Ceballos explained how his relationship with De la Fuente could help him thrive.
“I have had great coaches, but with Luis [de la Fuente] we have a different relationship. We have linked up very well from the first tournament (Under-19 European Championship in 2015)”, the former Arsenal midfielder said in Tuesday’s press conference.
“From then on we have forged a great relationship. He has given me confidence and I have been lucky to give it back to him on the field.”
De la Fuente’s men get their campaign underway versus Egypt on Thursday before subsequent fixtures against Argentina and Australia and Ceballos, who played 49 times across his two-year loan spell at Arsenal, is aware of the different challenges that the Games provide.
“It is a completely different competition than what we football players are used to. It is a unique opportunity”, he said.
“It is really difficult to qualify for it because it has a lot of requirements that are really tough to meet. But this team has done a lot of things to deserve it, and now it is the time to enjoy it.”
Barcelona youngster Pedri did not misplace a pass in normal time during the Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy and created 11 chances at the tournament, one more than fellow squad member Olmo (10) and one fewer than first-placed Jordi Alba (12).
Both will be team-mates of Ceballos and the midfielder praised all of his colleagues as they prepare to attempt to recreate the 1992 heroics which sealed home Olympic success in Barcelona.
“We have a really great team. On paper, I think we can be among the favourites, but in reality there are a lot of fantastic national teams. On the field it is going to be different”, he said
“Playing in this Olympic Games has been a special dream and I have been reading about what happened in that [the 1992] tournament. Especially in the final, that there was extra time and that Spain won against Poland with a goal from Kiko Narvaez.
“Hopefully we can repeat what they did in their day.”
Like Ceballos, De la Fuente spoke with pride about leading his nation at the Games, while he also discussed the possibility of following in the footsteps of those from Barcelona 1992.
“It is a pride being here. It is a different feeling from other tournaments because the Olympic Games are unique. It is a totally special experience, and we are wishing to start enjoying it as a competition and living the Olympic environment.”, the head coach said.
“We are feeling the same they felt, a great desire to start competing, a great conviction that we have a great team to compete for everything. And feeling capable of fighting for the maximum. I am sure we are feeling what they felt.
“We are going to try to be up to the standards expected of us, and I am sure that we are going to perform to that level and fulfil the expectations we are creating.”