Posted: Monday July 30, 2012 8:13 PM

Morocco-Spain Preview

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Dreams of dominance have given way to dejection for Spain, its hopes of a multilevel golden age dashed by a stunning inability to find a goal under any circumstances.

There will be only pride at stake Wednesday for Spain when it concludes Group D play against Morocco at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

La Roja arrived in London as a gold medal favorite along with Brazil, with good reason. Their senior squad has won an unprecedented three straight major titles - back-to-back European Championships around the 2010 World Cup - and most of the side coach Luis Milla selected for this tournament contributed to an Under-21 UEFA title last year.

Yet all that pressure proved too much to bear as consecutive 1-0 defeats - first to Japan last Thursday and then against Honduras on Sunday - have mathematically eliminated Spain from the knockout round. Sunday's loss was a staggering display of bad luck as La Roja conceded an early goal on a counterattack in the seventh minute and then had three shots over the course of the match either hit the crossbar or goal posts.

The reality of being eliminated set in with the growing frustration during Sunday's defeat - seven players were given yellow cards and players testily argued with Venezuelan referee Juan Soto late in the match after appeals for a potential match-tying penalty kick went unanswered.

"Yes, it's possible that the pressure was there, but they are players who play at the highest level," Milla said. "The coaching staff has to analyze what led to the elimination. We have to find out what happened."

The two defeats have left Spain and Olympic debutante United Arab Emirates as the only teams in the 16-country field without a point through the first two match days in group play. While Milla may make wholesale changes to his starting 11 with nothing at stake, the match could also serve as a homecoming of sorts for goalkeeper David de Gea - the starter at Old Trafford for English club Manchester United.

With one point through two matches, Morocco has only the slimmest of hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals. It would need a victory in this match plus a victory by Japan over Honduras to draw level with Los Catrachos at four points, then overcome the current goal differential between the teams since Honduras currently is plus-1 and Morocco is minus-1.

Morocco was on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat to Japan in its second group match Sunday, falling on a goal in the 84th minute. Fatigue may be a problem for coach Pim Verbeek's squad as it tries to work around the Muslim tradition of Ramadan fasting.

Verbeek, though, will have the services of Zakarya Bergdich for this match after the defender for French club Lens sat out Sunday's loss for his red card in Thursday's 2-all draw versus Honduras.

 
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