Team GB disappoint while Senegal impress

July 30, 2012 in Olympics

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What a load of rubbish.

Walking back down the Wembley way amidst a throng of Olympic fans, I could not help but feel the way I have felt about oh so many recent English football teams – sheer disappointment. Let’s not beat around the bush here - Team GB (really Team England and Wales) were lucky to win 3-1 against the UAE. That is not to say they were the worse team or that they weren’t vastly superior in ability to the men from the Emirates; they were much better, but, what I mean to say is that GB, and particularly their manager Stuart Pearce, were lucky that their own stupidity didn’t cost them.

Following a flat first 70 minutes or so, GB had been pegged back by a well-organised UAE side, before Scott Sinclair came on and GB had a five-minute spell, scoring two good goals, before returning to the flat, limited passages of play that had haunted them throughout the game. This was in stark contrast to the vivacity shown by an outstanding Senegalese side who hammered Uruguay despite being reduced to ten men with only 30 minutes played. They attacked fluidly down either wing. West Ham’s new signing Mohammed Diame was too quick for Uruguay’s players, and he was allowed to dictate play, moving the ball from right to left at will.

Of course The Lions were as full of conviction as they were against Team GB in the opening game and some of the tackles that went flying in were horrendous. None more so than the Senegalese big lumbering centre-back Abdoulaye Ba hacking down Luis Suarez when he was through on goal. The crowd cheered seeing the damage done to pantomime villain Suarez - who was booed throughout - and the referee produced a straight red.

Senegal were already up 1-0 by this point through Pape Moussa Konate, who had tapped in following a scrap in the penalty area. The Lions looked particularly deadly from set pieces, and it was another corner that resulted in the ten men doubling their lead - Konate again with a glanced header as he was moving away from goal. The Maccabi Tel Aviv striker looks like a really good prospect and outshone all of Uruguay’s supposed stars. Nicolas Lidoero and Edinson Cavani were particularly disappointing, and the Senegalese saw out the game comfortably in the second half.

It was an exhilarating taste of my first Olympic football game, one that whetted the appetite for the second game. If Uruguay had been so poor and managed to beat the UAE, and GB only saw a late equaliser deny them a victory against Senegal, then surely this would be a walk over.

I should have known better.

The promise of a comfortable GB win dissipated within minutes of the kick off. I turned disbelieving to my uncle who was at the game with me and said something along the lines of “who the hell is playing on the right wing?”. It was as if Pearce had forgotten that this side of the pitch existed, which was very strange considering it was the side closest to the dugout.

As a result, the GB were dire. It was as if they had no idea of what or where they were meant to be attacking, instead playing a pass just because the pass was there. Unlike Senegal, who would switch the play one way before quickly switching it to the other wing, creating space for their pacy players to attack down the wings. GB were giving the ball to Craig Bellamy or Ryan Giggs and hoping for them to do something. Thankfully they did, a great cross by Bellamy had Giggs nod in at the far post. It was one of the only times that GB had got two men into the Senegalese box.

After the goal, play return pretty much to the same pattern of play with neither team creating anything of note. It was infuriating and Pearce was lucky that this was not a hardcore football supporting crowd as he would have had a torrent of abuse otherwise, not that a few boos couldn’t be heard during the course of the game. The most infuriating thing about it all was how basic a flaw it was in the game plan. Aaron Ramsey, Tom Cleverley, Giggs and Joe Allen were all playing in the same position, ending up on top of each other quite literally at one point, with Cleverley and Ramsey knocking into each other on the edge of the box. There was no width and it was easy for the UAE to mop up most of the GB play.

This went on, and 60 minutes in, UAE were deservedly level. From poor marking in midfield, Rashid Eisa was allowed to burst past the flat-footed England defence and slot past a helpless Jack Butland. It was no more than they deserved. UAE were beginning to dictate play and the game was bypassing Allen and the tiring Giggs. So much so that Allen may not have been on the pitch. It took Pearce a following ten minutes to actually decide to make a change, during which time only a wonderful save from Butland to deny striker Ahmed Khalil and poor finishing by the UAE kept GB in the game. So after 70 minutes of me yelling my head off about the lack of presence on the right wing, finally Pearce brought on Scott Sinclair.

With two wingers on the pitch for the first time in the match, GB scored two goals in three minutes. Wonderful what a team can achieve when they actually have a shape and some width. With Bellamy switched to the right and Sinclair on the left, Ramsey, Cleverley and Allen finally had options. With the ball being quickly switched from left to right, Bellamy picked up the ball with space to drive into, whipped the ball across and Sinclair was left with a tap in.

Minutes later and with the UAE defence split trying to mark the two wide men, Cleverley found time and space to slip the ball through the middle for Daniel Sturridge (a second half substitute for the ineffective Marvin Sordell), who finished delightfully with a magnificent chip over the onrushing keeper.

For five minutes it was a brilliant team performance and UAE were unable to cope. However, just to add further disappointment Pearce made another substitution, taking off Bellamy to bring on another central midfielder in Jack Cork, and once again GB lacked any sort of ability to spread the play. It must have been extremely enraging for Ramsey, as it was apparently he who had been sent out in the first half to play on the right wing. After all, despite his quality he is not a player who can beat a defender then whip in a ball.

This total lack of understanding as to why GB were so good for that five minute spell shows a real lack of ability in Pearce. No wonder he has said that he thinks Uruguay (GB’s next opponents) are favourites to qualify from the group when he can’t set out his team to play properly. He is just lucky that it was GB and not England putting on a performance as dire as this.