The shadow of football is long when it comes to a British team being at the Olympics Games. Twice gold medal winners of the 1908 and 1912 tournament, Great Britain has not entered a team since before the 1972 games in Munich. The final game that represented these islands ended in disaster as they lost 5-1 to Bulgaria.
The signs during this pre-tournament friendly at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, especially in the first 60 minutes, were ominous. There was a distinct lack of cohesion, a hole that not even the much vaunted and David Beckham could have filled. There of course lies the rub, they were playing against one of the two pre-tournament favourites, and they were playing against a team that were looking forward by two years to the World Cup in their own country in 2014. Team GB hadn’t the extensive knowledge of playing with each other in the same way that a lot of other countries taking part over the next four weeks have managed.
Stuart Pearce, an England hero and one of the best defenders to pull on the white shirt of his country, has been under a lot of pressure in the media since his decision to leave out David Beckham from the squad. However it is difficult to see how, if he had played any part in this friendly, he would have galvanised a team that looked for the best part of the match as if they had been transformed in to the same brave amateurs that took on Bulgaria in 1971.
The team were led out by Manchester United’s stalwart and long serving player Ryan Giggs. It was a sentimental moment and one that Ryan Giggs seemed to relish. It is a terrible indictment of the modern game that Wales haven’t made any sort of impact on world football, because of that the likes of Ryan Giggs and his international team mate Craig Bellamy haven’t graced the stage of any World Cup or European Championships. This was the opportunity to make amends for them both. It might have been a friendly but there was a point to prove.
For the best part of an hour, Brazil ran the game almost completely. Aside from the odd skirmish and shot or header on goal, it was an almost exhibition like performance by the South Americans. If they really had been in top gear they would have been out of sight by half time. As it was, the Brazilians went into the break two nil up thanks to a looping header by Sandro and a penalty by Neymar. The normally reliable Micah Richards was at fault for the penalty, and was rightly booked for a challenge that he wouldn’t have given away in the Premiership for Manchester City.
The lacklustre vocal support of the crowd at the Riverside didn’t do much to spur Team GB on. There were no recognised songs or chants for the crowd to fall back on and even though there seemed to be a lot more supporters in the stadium than when Middlesbrough played in Europe a few years ago, this had all the hallmarks of a game of underwhelming non-possibilities.
The second half started with Team GB making several substitutions, amongst them was the appearance of Birmingham City’s Jack Butland who made a very impressive contribution to the slight improvement in Team GB’s work ethic. It has to be said though that Brazil looked and played as if they were hardly out of first gear throughout the entire game. Even when Team GB did threaten finally with the ball, Brazil just soaked up the pressure and carried on as if it was a minor inconvenience.
Overall it’s hard to imagine how Team GB can improve much further before their three group games which start on Thursday. In a competition that looks to be dominated by Brazil and Spain, Team GB will struggle to emulate the team managed by Alfred Davis a hundred years ago.
Team GB: Steele, Bertrand, Richards, Tomkins, Taylor, Cleverley, Allen, Giggs, Rose, Bellamy, Sturridge. Subs: Butland, Caulker, Dawson, Cork, Ramsey, Sinclair, Sordell.
Brazil:Rafael, Da Silva, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo, Sandro, Romulo, Oscar, Hulk, Neymar, Leandro Damiao. Subs: Neto, Lucas, Bruno Uvini, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Ganso, Alexandre Pato.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France)
Final Score: Team GB 0 Brazil 2
Player of the match: Sandro (Brazil)
Ian D. Hall