KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
— Team GB sealed a gap of 41 years two months and 15 days in kicking off against Brazil in their Olympic friendly at Middlesbrough. Not surprisingly, Britain were rusty after all those years of inactivity, were thoroughly outclassed and were fortunate to lose only 2-0.
This was a game which set in perspective the challenge for Team GB. All the rest of the Olympic football tournaments are established teams; Britain looked a scratch side which is, more or less, what they are.
The venue was an oddly appropriate one. Outside the main stand at The Riverside is a statue of old hero George Hardwick, a fullback stalwart of the 1940s and early 1950s but also the only man to have captained both England and Great Britain.
His status stays intact. Team GB captain Ryan Giggs was making history too as the only man to captain both Wales and Britain. So for all that this game was both a friendly and a warm-up, the occasion was still a remarkable one for the Manchester United veteran. After all that he had achieved in the game an appearance on a major representative stage had always been denied him by dint of nationality. Now that very nationality had helped bring him an Olympic encore.
Coach Stuart Pearce’s line-up was intriguing not only for the opportuniy to examine his vision for the players at his disposal but the tactical option. Not for Pearce the 4-4-2 of seniors’ manager Roy Hodgson. Instead he preferred the 4-2-3-1 much in vogue elsewhere at Euro 2012 with Joe Allen and Giggs in the holding roles, Tom Cleverley at the apex of the diamond and the barely-fit-again Daniel Sturridge as the lone striker.
Britain made a willing start but defensive fragility was soon in evidence as Neymar accelerated clear only to shoot wastefully high over the bar. Britain failed to heed the warning. The defence stood around lazily as Neymar took a Brazilian free kick, allowed it to bounce over the wall so Tottenham midfielder Sandro could head home.
That was after 12 minutes. Another 22 and Brazil were 2-0 up. Hulk was brought down by Micah Richards as he slalomed into the penalty box and Neymar glided a beautifully-executed spot-kick just inside Boro keeper Jason Steele’s right-hand post.
The referee may have been named Turpin but Brazil’s 2-0 half-time advantage was perfectly justified. They might even have scored more in other raids: highway robbery had nothing to do with it.
Pearce, as if emphasizing his desperation to hit on a suitable pattern and shape, made four half-time changes in personnel and six positional switches. Sturridge, a surprise starter after ill, stayed in the dressing room and Craig Bellamy moved up front. To no perceptive avail
The outstanding Leandro Damiao and Chelsea-bound Oscar both had drives solidly blocked by Jack Butland who had appeared in goal at half-time.
More changes saw the departures of Giggs and Bellamy, leaving Richards as the lone surviving over-age player but for only a few more minutes before he gave way to Craig Dawson.
Not that it made any difference. Brazil remained so comfortably in command that they could afford to bring their own game down to little more than walking pace, except on the odd occasions when they saw a gap and accelerated forward with electrifying pace.
Danny Rose, particularly in the second half, was the pick of an unconvincing Team GB ahead of Butland and Neil Taylor; they need a lot more games together but they do not have the time.
So different for Brazil. Neymar, Oscar, Damiao, Hulk and Marcelo all looked different class. The Brazilians have never won Olympic gold. On this evidence they will take a lot of stopping.
Great Britain: Steele (Butland 46) – Bertrand (Cork 46), Richards (Dawson 73), Tomkins (Caulker 46), Taylor – Allen, Giggs – Bellamy, Cleverley, Rose – Sturridge (Sinclair 46). Coach: Pearce.
Brazil: Barbosa – Rafael Da Silva, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo (Alex Sandro 76) – Sandro (Danilo 85) – Oscar (Lucas 67), Romulo, Hulk (Ganso 67) – Damiao (Alexandre Pato 73), Neymar. Coach: Menezes.
Referee: Turpin (Fr).
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