Ped's Olympic Musings - Team GB 1-0 Uruguay
Stuart Pearce`s unfancied Team GB delivered another excellent performance tonight which belied the fact that his players have only worked together in a match environment five times.
This collection of youngsters essentially from England and Wales, supervised by the older Bellamy and Richards saw Team GB top their group and qualify for the last eight undefeated.
As the team sheet went up on the scoreboard I have to admit that I was disappointed to see Richards named in the centre. I have always thought that he struggles there as when he has his "switch-off moment" it invariably results in a goal for the opposition. Equally when he played on the corner in the last match he added an extra dimension to the attacking prowess of his team. I don`t think his centre back efforts will have overly impressed Roy Hodgson and he will no doubt be frustrated that the England Head Coach is not seeing him in his best position. He did however make a number of important blocks to take the sting out of goalbound efforts.
Uruguay lining up with the fearsome spearhead of Suarez and Cavani, who I have said I would like to see at City, promised to make a fist of it (Quite literally late on in the match), but as in their previous games they proved to be damp squibs. Yes Suarez buzzed around Tevez-style, but he got practically nothing on target and if he did, Joe Hart`s future deputy at club and country level, Jack Butland was equal to it. His was an exceptional performance, getting all his big decisions correct and it was fitting that the match ended with a goalbound Suarez free-kick which he held in commanding fashion.
The early signs were that my fears of Micah in the centre would prove correct, but he grew into the match ably assisted by Caulker. Team GB held a tight back line intent on keeping Suarez wide or deep and Cavani isolated. And to an extent it worked with Cavani not at all looking like the player I want to see at the Etihad and their most effective player, Suarez mounting a one-man crusade to try to keep his team in the competition.
It was probably in midfield where GB were most effective. Cleverley had probably the best match I have seen him play since he was in the United second team at a match played at Hyde FC. Having rested Grandad Giggs, Pearce needed a good show from the Stretford man and that arrived tonight. Well assisted by Allen and with Ramsey roaming and the effervescent Bellamy providing his usual threat, the midfield men snapped at the heels of their counterparts to the extent that by the 50 minute mark they had enjoyed almost 70% of the possession and, more importantly snatched the lead as half time loomed when Sturridge turned home from close-in with the Uruguay backline doing and Arsenal standing with their hands in the air. However it was to no avail. The assistant kept his flag down largely because Sturridge was not offside and GB were 1-0 to the good.
By the 70th minute Uruguay had hardly had a sniff other than as a result of two "switch-offs" both of which should have ended up in their net except that Butland, clearly learning the good practice from Joe Hart made two outstanding saves to keep GB in front.
Up top Sturridge tried too many times to be clever and did not convince me he was playing for the team, but for himself. When he first came through at City there was no doubt the talent was there, but to try to execute a fancy flick and run into a resolute defender, where there is an easy pass to an unmarked colleague is bot infuriating and frustrating.
Uruguay pushed the hammer down in the last twenty but didn`t quite have the teeth and Butland saw his team home with the superb save from Suarez last gasp free kick. But as the game progressed reminders of 1966 came flooding back as they sort to confuse the referee, tried to get GB players cautioned, feigned injuries and became over-robust in tackles.
None of it worked because the Japanese referee one of the fittest you have ever seen was on top of everything, executed admonishments as and when necessary and general ran the game very well indeed. Even when the pushing, shoving and jersey tugging at Uruguay`s final corner threatened to get out of hand, his control did not waver, so well done to him.
For me Cleverley just about edged man-of-the-match from Butland and Bellamy, who as usual worked his socks off and let the field early to a great ovation from his fellow countrymen, but as you would expect arguing with the officials as he took his time to pass the armband to Richards and generally join in the applause. Don`t you just love him?
The often maligned Pearce once again got the calls right tonight and produced another result from a team that is youthful in its content and in its infancy in term of the number of times it has played together. Perhaps Hodgson and his team should take note.
Next stop sees GB play South Korea in Cardiff on Saturday and if they win that it`s just like watching Brazil!