KEIR RADNEDGE at the 2012 OLYMPICS
— MANCHESTER: Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, was always an appropriate choice among football venues for the 2012 Olympic Games: Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager who laid the United legend between the 1940s and 1960s, managed the Great Britain football team at the 1948 Games.
Even neater, it was here that the present-day successor of Busby’s Team GB – not that the term had even been coined in 1948 – made their first competitive appearance at the Games since 1960 and were being held 1-1 by Senegal in the closing minutes.
The Group A tie was one for the history books: Great Britain’s first appearance in the Olympic finals since 1960 and their first competitive appearance since the qualifying defeat by Bulgaria 41 years ago in 1971 (They played a friendly against Brazil last Friday, losing 2-0 in Middlesrough).
Earlier in the evening Uruguay had beaten an inpressive United Arab Emirates 2-1 and demonstrated a competitive edge which set a tough standard for what is yet to come.
Old Trafford was not far short of capacity at 72,176 by the time Britain and Senegal took to the pitch. Bellamy contributed the historic first touch at the kickoff and then thumped Britain ahead in the 19th minute after Senegal failed to clear a long, hanging right-wing free kick from captain Ryan Giggs.
Senegal had reached the finals thanks only to victory in an intercontinental playoff in Coventry but they played with skill and confidence on the ball, were eager in the tackle and should have been level in the 26th minute. Britain keeper Jack Butland miscued a clearance but surprised striker Sadio Mane chipped his answering effort wide of a relieved Butland’s left-hand post.
The pattern of play grew ragged in the second half as both teams began to tire, which produced a number of lazy tackles, various substitutions few chances.
Increasing frustration over the manner of the match exploded in the 70th minute. Bellamy was clattered on the edge of the penalty box by fullback Saliou Ciss and fullback Neil Taylor ran 25 metres to remonstrate with the defender. Remarkably, he escaped a card of any colour – it might easily have been red – from the persistently too-lenient Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov.
Senegal enjoyed the escape and capitalised. Eight minutes from the end Moussa Konate darted through the middle to flip an angled right-wing pass beyond Butland for the equaliser.
Suddenly, from somewhere, Britain raised their game for one last effort. Marvin Sordell hit the bar after a left-wing raid by fellow substitute Aaron Ramsey and was then denied a shooting chance only by a magnificently-timed tackle from Abdoulaye Ba as the Bolton man burst into the box.
Great Britain: Butland – Taylor, Richards, Caulker, Bertrand – Allen (Ramsey 62), Cleverley, Giggs – Bellamy (Cork 79), Sturridge (Sordell 46), Rose.
Senegal: Ousmane Mane – Ba, Diame, Papa Gueye, Ciss – Toure, Idrissa Gueye (Kouyate 42), Balde (Magaye Gueye 64), Konate – Souare (Yero 87) – Sadio Mane.
Referee: Urmatov (Uzb)
Uruguay 2, United Arab Emirates 1
Earlier, Uruguay just about deserved their victory over the UAE.
The South Americans, appearing at the Olympic finals for the first time since they won gold in Amsterdam in 1928, began as one of the most highly-rated contenders, including Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and Napoli forward Edinson Cavani as over-age players.
The two had also starred in the Uruguay team who had reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup. But this was an extra-special outing for Suarez as the first time he had played at Old Trafford since the verbal clash with United’s Patrice Evra which saw him banned for eight games for a repeated racist comment during last October’s Premier League game.
The physical determination of both teams was evident from the outset with Uruguay’s German Rolin booked for a trip on Ahmed Khalil then UAE’s Abdulaziz Hussain fortunate not to see a card for felling Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates.
Skipper Ismael Matar upset pre-match expectations when he put UAE ahead in the 22nd minute. Sent clear by a superb through pass, Matar stepped around keeper Martin Campana before sliding his shot past two covering defenders and into the net.
The Emirates should have had all three points secured by half-time. Campana made fine, brave saves from Ahmed Khalil and Rashed Eisa while Matar glanced a header into the side net. But the UAE paid a heavy price for those finishing failings by conceding a ‘soft’ equaliser to a 42nd-minute free kick from Gaston Ramirez.
Uruguay were fortunate to be on terms at the break but within just over 10 minutes of the second half they were ahead and in command.
Manager Oscar Washington Tabarez had brought on Ajax’s Nicolas Lodeiro at half-time in place of Matias Aguirregaray to add width to attack and the ploy paid off. Lodeiro sent Suarez into the penalty box and then fired home the Liverpool man’s perfect lay-off from an acute angle.
= = = =