Men’s Olympic Football Tournament
07 May 2021
- Perez won gold with Spain at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992
- Former striker says taking part was very special and exciting
- La Roja face tough challenge from Argentina at Tokyo 2020
For legions of sports fans in Spain, the Olympic Games hold some very fond memories, which is hardly surprising in country where swathes of the population are traditionally glued to their TV sets anytime a compatriot takes part.
And while this has produced a host of memorable moments down the years, some clearly stand out from the rest. In the latter category is unquestionably the gold medal won by its footballers at the Barcelona 1992 edition, when, after decades without a major title, La Roja finally won big.
Who could forget the sight of a Camp Nou packed to the rafters for the that final on 8 August 1992 or that of the entire team piling on top of Kiko Narvaez after he netted the winner in the 3-2 triumph against Poland?
Images like those are etched on the memories of Spanish fans and always spring to mind when the Games come around. “Immense joy and excitement are my abiding memories overall. A full stadium, a final, everyone there… it all worked out perfectly,” Alfonso Perez, a member of that gold-winning side, tells FIFA.com.
Just two and a half months before Tokyo 2020 gets underway, we chatted to the 48-year-old about a triumph that marked a generation of players and a great many of the country’s fans, who finally saw La Roja excel at a big competition after a difficult summer in which they had sat out EURO 1992 in Sweden.
Known as La Quinta del Cobi, (Cobi’s Quintet – in reference to the Games’ Official Mascot) several members went on to enjoy stellar careers and land major titles, including Pep Guardiola, Kiko, Santi Canizares, current Spain coach Luis Enrique and Alfonso himself. That said, winning gold will always have a treasured place.
“It’s like lifting the Champions League or a World Cup. I’ve won league titles and the Copa del Rey, but having an Olympic gold medal around your neck is something beautiful, commendable and exhilarating. It’s significant because it’s hard to achieve, with the tournament only played every four years,” says the former Real Madrid, Barcelona and Real Betis striker.
A footballer can experience great moments during his career, but taking part in the Olympics is special – even more so if they’re on home soil, as Perez confirms: “I have very good memories of it, as it was a very special edition. It was a very young side, made up of guys already playing in the top flight and who were lucky enough to win gold.”
What makes the Olympics special
While Spain has frequently enjoyed great Olympic moments, the 1992 gold was different and the start of something significant.
During a month in which the entire country was engrossed in the games and then specifically on the football tournament, it would prove to be a triumph that would live long in the collective imagination and help change the country’s footballing mentality: “We had to win it. We’d always had a good team but translating that into successes had not been easy at all. The pressure we faced came from playing at home. It was a good side and so everyone expected great things from us,” he says.
Because of the age limitations in the Men’s Football Tournament, taking part can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a player, something that imbues the gold medal with even greater value. “It was a very special tournament and a unique opportunity. We were expected to really go for it and get the gold. In contrast to a EURO or World Cup, which you can play in multiple times, competing at an Olympic Games happens just once in a lifetime.”
The Opening Ceremony and crossing paths with stars from other sports also helps make the Games truly memorable for those taking part, and this is precisely how Perez remembers it. “We were all in our uniforms, parading around a packed Olympic stadium. You saw athletes from all over the world, huge stars, like NBA players and other gold medallists. Walking side by side all these people you’ve seen on TV left a big impression on me.”
Argentina the team to beat
Although the level of football at the Olympic Tournament may not be quite as high as the World Cup or continental championships, it will always be special: “I’d tell any young players taking part to savour the experience, as it’s a really nice competition. You get to go to another country, to experience another culture and different food, and see other facilities. It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” the Getafe native tells FIFA.com.
This year, Spain have a talented generation hoping to reprise the glory days of 1992. At Sydney 2000 La Roja had to settle for silver and will also be keen to make up for their absence at Rio 2016. Despite that motivation, Perez warns that the task will not be easy: “We’re in a complicated group, with Argentina the standout team. They have a special mentality, are very competitive and love to win. They’re a global powerhouse, a team to watch for and always in contention. They pose perhaps the biggest threat.”
The Spaniard signed off with a message to everyone taking part, regardless of their discipline. “The Olympic atmosphere is very different. You’ll meet athletes from many diverse sports and events, unlike at a EURO or World Cup, where you rarely leave your team base. Whether you win a medal or not, it’s an experience that you should enjoy to the full. Taking part is important for any young athlete, just for the sake of doing it.”