Ger McCarthy looks at five things learned from the night Great Britain qualified for the knockout stages of the Olympic men’s football tournament as momentum finally grows around Stuart Pearce’s squad.
1. Momentum is building
The Great British female football side grabbed Tuesday’s Olympic headlines with a terrific display to see off the much-fancied Brazil thanks to a solitary Steph Houghton strike at a packed Wembley Stadium. The largest ever crowd to witness a British female football match were enthralled by Hope Powell’s side’s efforts and threatened to capture the combined nations affections before Stuart Pearce’s men took to the Millennium Stadium pitch on Wednesday evening. In truth, the men’s ‘Team GB’ has struggled to capture any headlines thus far despite a solid 1-1 draw against Senegal and a deserved 3-1 win over the UAE. But Wednesday night’s performance and subsequent win over a talented Uruguay underlined how well Pearce’s multinational side has gelled in the past number of weeks.
The experience and guile of Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs appears to have rubbed off on the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair and Ryan Bertrand giving Great Britain every chance of seeing off South Korea on Saturday to set up a likely meeting with tournament favourites Brazil in the last four. Pearce deserves credit for quietly and efficiently going about his business, avoiding the media hype about non–singing of God Save the Queen and developing a solid counter-attacking style that has gotten the best out of the raw material at his disposal. Pearce is also doing his future managerial credentials a world of good and may well end up in the shop window for a struggling Premier League club before the season is out.
2. Great Britain better off without Beckham-mania
Much of the hype leading into the London 2012 men’s Olympic football tournament was not about Stuart Pearce’s choice of tactics or the novelty of a Great British team taking to the field in search of Olympic glory but rather how David Beckham – or should that be Brand Beckham – would ‘energise the British nations’. Thankfully the competition was spared the sight of the former Manchester United star lumbering around the pitch who these days resembles more of a musketeer than a footballer.
To be fair to Beckham there is little doubt his brand name played a major role helping London secure the Olympic Games but that was no reason to grant the former England international a place in Pearce’s final squad. Beckham’s presence may have resulted in more bums on seats but instead ‘Team GB’ has moulded into a half-decent team without the additional media glare and hype that would have no doubt accompanied one of LA Galaxy’s franchise players.
3. National anthem issues
Uruguay’s operatic national anthem was respected up to the point the TV cameras panned to Luis Suarez whereupon the sizeable Millennium Stadium attendance instantly booed the Liverpool striker. The residue of last season’s Patrice Evra affair looks set to linger on and the Uruguayan can expect more of the same ahead of the upcoming Premier League campaign. As for God Save the Queen, well at least the British supporters in attendance chose to join in rather than stay silent like the Welsh players.
So what? Those players are Welshmen first, British second. Thankfully Stuart Pearce’s assertion that the media hype surrounding the non-singing of that particular anthem wasn’t an issue for him or his players appears to have put the problem to bed. At least until Great Britain play their quarter final tie at Wembley…
4. Uruguay were a major disappointment
The South Americans entered Wednesday nights encounter at the Millennium Stadium a mere three points away from reaching the knockout stages of the tournament. Yet you would have been hard pressed to explain that statistic to any neutral fan who watched a turgid opening 45 minutes in which the likes of Suarez, Coates and Ramirez looked like they were still on holiday. It wasn’t until midway through the second half that the Uruguayans finally began to show signs of life and only once Great Britain had spurned a number of opportunities to kill the game off did the South Americans begin to threaten scoring an actual goal.
Ramirez rattled the British crossbar right at the death but it proved too little too late and the Uruguayans spent much of the second period incurring the wrath of the referee for some nasty challenges and petulant reactions. It is a terrible pity they underperformed as they did because a potential meeting with Brazil in the latter stages of the tournament would have been one to savour and an opponent Suarez and his teammates would not have feared. Instead Uruguay meekly exited the competition following back to back Group A defeats finishing third in the standings behind eventual winners Great Britain and runners-up Senegal.
5. Jack Butland is the real deal
The 19-year old giant stopper enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a clean sheet and another solid Olympic display between the sticks. On the same afternoon transfer rumours swirled about a possible move to Liverpool, Butland pulled off two excellent second half saves to deny the South Americans a certain equaliser. The loudest roar of the night was reserved for the British number one when – right on full time – he flew through the air to clutch and hold on to a goalbound Suarez free-kick.
On this kind of form the Great British goalkeeper looks set to make a name for himself and should Pearce’s side get through to a last four encounter with Brazil then expect to hear more of England’s next number one; Butland, Jack Butland.
Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74