By Kristian Balkin
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If things are put into the most damning perspective, London 2012 will mean very little to the Great Britain men’s football team. There are many competitions which, despite appearing on their calendar with quite some regularity, would mean more to Stuart Pearce’s team. The Champions League, the Premier League and, it goes almost without saying, the World Cup and European Championships will fill the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Micah Richards with far more impetus and desire than any visit from a South Korean Under-23 elect.
For Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, it is of course thought to be one last genuine foray into the depths of international football but would the former, for even a second, think about swapping just one of his Premiership medals for an Olympic gold? Of course not. This Olympiad, so wonderful and spectacular in its execution, barely even registers in the minds of competitive footballers. It is not football’s elite competition. Not even close. So why should football even be featured?
Well, if there was any doubt, then at least team GB are prepared to enjoy the ride while it lasts. Even if the sport itself is still to be played in Brazil in four years’ time, the chances of Britain fielding a representative eleven is hugely slim and this depressing detail has perhaps done much of the work so far in what has been an impressive early stint. Pearce’s side seem energetic, enthused and, at various points, a quite extraordinarily tuned unit. They are playing with the fluidity of a team that believe this is truly their last chance.
Jack Butland has performed some remarkably heroic saves, in particular halting the vicious advances of one of the Olympics’ most talent-packed sides, Uruguay. Twice he responded with reactions beyond his unbelievably tender years as GB snatched victory from a quite unlikely circumstance. He has, at merely 19 years old, put the fear of God into Joe Hart and the nationwide belief that he will hold onto England’s number one jersey with some stern grip for many years to come. The Manchester City goalkeeper truly has a potential challenger who has leaped at the chance to show the world what he can do.
Add to that some quite exquisite play from Daniel Sturridge who, despite injury scuppering his preparations, has shown himself to be deadly clinical and sublimely gifted, and you have a substantial reason as to why topping what was a moderately difficult group seemed, in comparison to England’s recent histrionics at least, somewhat easy. We had the customary home countries slip up with the disappointing 1-1 draw with Senegal – an opening to London 2012 which seemed belittling at best – but, since, even Stuart Pearce himself has provided some masterful moments.
The manager has been described, at its most flattering, as a sensible choice. Sensible is a very modest adjective, though, that covers up the authentic feeling of what was a ‘he’ll do’ appointment. His track record is dull and uninspiring but his decision to introduce Scott Sinclair to the action against the United Arab Emirates was quite clearly pivotal. The winger came on and scored within a minute and for once a Pearce decision was palpably vindicated.
Victory against Uruguay required far more guile but Team GB haven’t looked short of that across all of London 2012’s events. Bellamy, captain for the game, and his troops were battle hardened and the near future is painted with optimism. Defeating South Korea will probably be made more difficult than it need be but the expectation is that the job will be successfully done. Then, more than likely, Brazil would await and that would probably be one step too far for this newly formed team. A bronze medal would be entirely plausible, however, and it would also prove a significant coup.
They’d have nothing on the marvellous exploits of Chris Hoy or Bradley Wiggins of course but they have at least shown that some things are possible. Yet I doubt, unfortunately, that many tears will be shed.
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