Team GB boosted their hopes of progressing from the group stage of the men’s football tournament with a 3-1 win over UAE at Wembley.
Stuart Pearce’s team continued to show signs of improvement during the opening period and could have taken the lead in the first couple of minutes as Craig Bellamy caught the UAE defence napping to centre the ball towards Aaron Ramsey, though the Wales captain failed to make a telling connection and the chance went begging. Great Britain’s Welsh contingent was heavily involved again when the deadlock was broken on 16 minutes. The move was started by an Englishman, Tom Cleverley, who sprayed the ball out to Bellamy on the right flank before the Liverpool forward curled a cross towards Ryan Giggs at the far post. Team GB’s veteran captain took advantage of the relaxed UAE defending to nod home with ease.
Cleverley was at the heart of a confident 1st half showing and the Manchester United midfielder’s incisive passing ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams. But as UAE struggled to repeat their impressive performance versus Uruguay in the opening 45 minutes of their first fixture it was Cleverley’s eye for goal that nearly doubled Great Britain’s lead before the break. Cleverley started the move from deep and was on hand to meet Bellamy’s cut back with a crisp curling effort, to the young midfielder’s astonishment his shot deflected off Ali Khasif’s left hand post before spinning onto the opposite upright with the UAE ‘keeper stranded.
If Giggs’ goal galvanised Team GB in the 1st half then it acted as the catalyst for their reserved play during the opening stages of the 2nd period and the pace of the game lulled as Great Britain took a more conservative attitude to their attacking play. The game was only reinvigorated when UAE equalised with a goal akin to a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky and it looked as if Pearce’s side were to rue not adding to their lead during the 1st half. Omar Abdulrahman undone the GB defence with an incisive through-ball to Rashed Eisa, who calmly dribbled through on goal before keeping his composure to stroke the ball past Jack Butland.
UAE were resurgent and utilised their serenity in possession as they took the game to a stunned Great Britain team. Butland had to be at his best to prevent the plucky Arabs taking the lead when he blocked Ahmed Khalil’s shot with his legs after another free-flowing move had split the nervy GB defence.
Against the run of play Bellamy intervened as his stinging cross was spilt by Khasif to leave substitute Scott Sinclair with an easy tap in. The game was far from won and it was a relief when another moment of quality from Cleverley meant that GB could finally breathe easy. Cleverley threaded a wonderful through-ball to Daniel Sturridge and the substitute, who had clearly struggled with fitness in the 1st half versus Senegal, would have given his morale a huge boost when he lifted an exquisite chipped effort beyond Khasif to seal the win.
After performing valiantly in their opening two games UAE are eliminated from the competition, though Mahdi Ali’s team can take heart from their Olympic showing so far and will no doubt provide Senegal with a test as they aim to progress to the quarter-finals. Great Britain face Uruguay in Cardiff knowing a draw would ensure progression from the group stage. Though Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez will be seeking a considerable improvement following his team’s 2-0 defeat versus 10-man Senegal earlier today and it is imperative that Team GB are prepared for the inevitable backlash from the South American champions’ distinctively poor performance.
Moussa Konate scored either side of Abdoulaye Ba’s dismissal for a professional foul on Luis Suarez on the half hour mark and Senegal rarely looked troubled as Uruguay struggled to impose themselves against the fierce determination of Abdoukarime Diouf’s staunch defensive unit. In reality, it was Senegal who looked the more likely to score on the counter as Konate tormented the Uruguayans with his mixture of pace and prowess in front of goal.
In the tournament’s other encounters Mexico and South Korea’s bids for qualification from group B were strengthened with convincing wins over Gabon and Switzerland respectively. A Giovani dos Santos brace ensured a 2-0 victory for Mexico as South Korea prevailed 2-1 courtesy of goals from Park Chu-Young and Kim Bo-Yung, who cancelled out a goal from Switzerland’s fantastically named Innocent Emeghara.
Neymar was in scintillating form during Brazil’s 3-1 win over Belarus at Old Trafford, delighting the crowd with a tremendous free-kick in addition to his involvement in Brazil’s other two goals. Egypt and New Zealand shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw in the group’s earlier game.
There was contrasting fortunes in group D as Japan joined Brazil in the quarter-final draw after defeating Morocco1-0 at St. James’ Park. Tournament favourites Spain were eliminated after a 1-0 loss to Honduras with doubts surrounding the Spanish squad’s commitment to progress as they clearly played within themselves during their opening lacklustre performances.
Group A: Uruguay 0-2 Senegal, Great Britain 3-1 UAE
Group B: Mexico 2-0 Gabon, South Korea 2-1 Switzerland
Group C: Brazil 3-1 Belarus, Egypt 1-1 New Zealand
Group D: Japan 1-0 Morocco, Spain 0-1 Honduras
Player of the Day: Neymar (Brazil)