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Spain forward Juan Mata wants gold at London Olympics to crown stellar year with club, country

07/25/2012 06:55 EDT | Updated 09/24/2012 05:12 EDT
GLASGOW, Scotland - 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 English FA Cup with club team Chelsea in May, and the European Championship with the Spanish national team in July.

Mata struggled to get playing time at the Euros 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, which also won the 2010 World Cup, opens its Olympic campaign in Group D against Japan on Thursday at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

"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 colorful 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."

Mata knows it will be tough, but is aware a victory in the first match will give the Spaniards confidence as they prepare to face their other group opponents, Honduras and Morocco. It would also move him a step closer to adding to his three championships this year.

"It would be fantastic, at my age, after having had the luck to win those tournaments," Mata said. "Now, to win a medal in the Olympic Games would be great for my career."

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