Men’s Football: Day One
Great Britain’s Men’s Football Team started their Olympic campaign with a 1-1 draw versus Senegal at Old Trafford.
Craig Bellamy had given Team GB the lead on 20 minutes after capitalising on Senegal’s failure to clear a Ryan Giggs free-kick to smash a shot into the ground and beyond Ousmane Mane. Though despite the celebrations of a packed Old Trafford the game had the feel of a pre-season friendly until the later stages as Great Britain lacked the urgency and cutting edge to add to their lead.
Senegal were well worth their equaliser after testing Jack Butland in the GB goal on numerous occasions during the 2nd half. It was Moussa Konate who put Senegal back on level terms with 8 minutes remaining with a goal that was one of the game’s rare instances of quality. Sadio Mane threaded a delightful through-ball towards Konate, eluding the heart of the GB defence as Micah Richards was again punished for a moment of disorientation at centre-back as Konate clinically stroked the ball beyond Butland for the equaliser.
The draw was a fair result, yet Team GB will feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty when Saliou Ciss’ crunching foul on Bellamy inside the area went unnoticed with the score at 1-0. Senegal had played with an over-zealous physical approach throughout and this was just one of many examples of Abdoukarime Diouf’s team riding their luck as Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov took a far too lenient approach when dealing with a constant flow of cynical fouls. Marvin Sordell could have rescued the victory for Team GB but the Bolton Wanderers striker, who impressed after replacing the unfit Daniel Sturridge at half time, could only crash his effort onto the bar in the dying stages of the match.
A draw is a damaging result for Team GB’s hopes of progression from the group stage, especially when considering the quality exhibited in the group’s earlier game between UAE and Uruguay. UAE looked as if they were to claim a huge scalp against one of the tournament’s favourites when Ismail Matar notched his team ahead on 23 minutes. Uruguay were shell-shocked as the UAE’s free flowing football, spearheaded by the livewire Omar Abdulrahman, left the South Americans reeling for much of the 1st half. With the half time whistle looming Gaston Ramirez punished Ali Khasif’s poor positioning in the UAE goal as Uruguay equalised with a well taken free kick. The goal was the lifeline that Uruguay desperately needed and Oscar Tabarez’s side looked rejuvenated during the 2nd half. Their dramatic improvement was rewarded with what proved to be the winner as Nicolas Lodeiro capitalised on Luis Suarez’s ominous darting dribble along the by-line to take the ball from the Liverpool striker’s toe and beyond Khasif, who could only watch as the ball whistled into the inside of his net. Both teams will cause Team GB and Senegal problems, with UAE on their way to becoming the tournament’s token neutral’s favourite and an outsider’s bet for a medal (though I’m not the world’s most successful betting man, so prepare to laugh at that prediction when the UAE inevitably lose their next two games).
Group B’s games involved two cagey affairs as Mexico and South Korea played out a goalless draw and Gabon and Switzerland drew 1-1 at St James’ Park. Group C had much more to offer the tournament’s goal tally as favourites Brazil prevailed 3-2 over Egypt in Cardiff with Neymar amongst the goals whilst Belarus defeated New Zealand 1-0 in Coventry.
Meanwhile in Group D Japan caused a major upset as Yuki Otsu scored the only goal in his team’s 1-0 victory over the widely fancied Spanish at Hampden Park. Morocco and Honduras played out a pulsating 2-2 draw in the group’s earlier game, with Morocco’s Abdalaziz Barrada’s opener the pick of today’s goals.
Group A: Uruguay 2-1 UAE, Great Britain 1-1 Senegal
Group B: Switzerland 1-1 Gabon, Mexico 0-0 South Korea
Group C: Brazil 3-2 Egypt, Belarus 1-0 New Zealand
Group D: Morocco2-2 Honduras, Spain 0-1 Japan
Player of the Day: Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)