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Headmaster’s report: Team GB at London 2012

Dreams of a gold medal at London 2012 are over for Stuart Pearce’s Team GB side and just as we were getting all excited about a potential semi-final, the cruel fate of penalties yet again proved the undoing of an English-studded team once more.

In the quarter final match against South Korea, the Asian side took some sublime penalty shootout kicks after the match finished 1-1 after extra time.

Team GB’s spot kicks all managed to breach Lee Bum-Young’s goal bar the final kick taken with a shimmy from Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge. The striker devastatingly missed after an emotional few months and bravely went on to compete at London 2012 after contracting viral meningitis.

Following this exit, we can now truly come to terms with how Team GB fared in their relatively small period together and whether we should send another Great Britain side out to the forthcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Pre-games

Prior to the games, there was a lot of mystery surrounding just who would make up the Team GB squad with reams and reams of names from throughout the four eligible nations being mooted for a call up.

What we did know relatively early on was that Stuart Pearce was the manager and therefore in the eyes of the sceptics he was always going to select a disproportionately large number of English talents, given his time in the England Under-21 capacity.

Whilst it remains fact that England are the most successful of the four home nations, giving good reason to select English players, Pearce overlooked Scotland and Northern Ireland entirely with Ryan Giggs, Neil Taylor, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Craig Bellamy providing the Welsh contingent in the final 18-man squad.

Pearce (pictured) remained adamant that he had picked the most competitive squad available, most infamously overlooking veteran and football icon David Beckham, but if Team GB are to compete in 2016, it would be nice to see all four home nations represented, with the likes of Jonny Evans and Jordan Rhodes satisfying that rationale, yet being overlooked this time, despite impressive campaigns.

Personally, and argued by many, David Beckham most definitely should have formed a part of Pearce’s squad at London 2012.

Whilst Pearce’s statement was refreshing that he wanted to win gold with the most competitive squad available, there was surely room for sentiment for an outstanding sportsman in David Beckham who was an ambassador for the London games.

Beckham who is actually impressing in his latter years in the MLS right now with LA Galaxy would have still been a threat from set pieces and would have inspired team mates in a manner much like Ryan Giggs did.

But the show went on without ‘Golden Balls’ and in the only official friendly before the games, Team GB slipped to a 2-0 defeat against Brazil at Middlesbrough, but in truth the score line did Brazil a massive injustice.

The overriding notion that Friday evening was that Team GB played like strangers which in honesty wasn’t too far from the truth after meeting up just days previously. However, there was no real link-up play, sustained periods of possession with defensive lapses proving detrimental against a stellar Brazilian strike force.

Although, the enduring Premier League campaign influences training camp meet-up’s, next time Team GB would benefit from a greater period together and perhaps a few more friendlies to gel.

Preliminary round

With more excitement centred around the Olympic spirit than the pace and fluidity of Team GB’s performance in their Group A opener against Senegal, Stuart Pearce’s side started slow and in a fairly dull first half, Craig Bellamy managed to edge the host nation in front.

Failing to add some gloss to this scorel ine, Team GB always ran the risk of conceding and this was their fate late on on 82 minutes where Moussa Konate levelled up the score to claim a point apiece.

Team GB were kicked about the Old Trafford pitch as Senegal’s over physical style was wild at times, and Team GB could have gained that vital cushion as Craig Bellamy was felled for what looked a stone wall penalty in the second half, only for referee Ravshan Irmatov to overlook the clear foul.

Following the result, Stuart Pearce and his troops took the positives out of the result, but there was a bittersweet emotion that players from the Premier League should have been able to see out a victory with just eight minutes remaining.

Then came the fixture against United Arab Emirates; a relatively unknown quantity but not to prove too easy an opponent following an impressive showing in their opener against Uruguay.

The Middle-Eastern side continued their impressive on the floor game at Wembley and carried a genuine goal threat with midfield playmaker Omar Abdulrahman again impressing scouts from superior divisions.

However, defensive lapses and a poor showing from goalkeeper Ali Khaseif meant Ryan Giggs could nod Team GB into the lead on 16 minutes.

Yet again, Team GB found themselves in that position of stick or twist that we have seen so often with the England national team and again this lack of bravery cost Pearce’s troops as Rashed Eisa levelled up on 60 minutes.

Nevertheless, following a UAE onslaught and a tricky few minutes where the Olympic dream was potentially dying, Team GB rallied and responded well and Scott Sinclair’s substitution reinvigorated the side as he scored with his first touch on 73 minutes.

Just three minutes later, Daniel Sturridge scored one of the goals of the tournament – a delicate lob over Khaseif which put Team GB out of sight and registered what was to be the most emphatic victory out of the four games played.

Post-match punditry pointed to the fact that Team GB looked more of a collective outfit with decent interchanges in the midfield and more of a pacier style.

Heading into the final Group A game against pre-tournament dark horses Uruguay, many felt this would prove an ideal time to assess Team GB’s metal in a must-win match for group supremacy.

In another disappointingly dull affair, Team GB satisfied the requirements of international tournament qualification, securing the much needed win despite an average performance as Daniel Sturridge tapped in crucially just before the half time whistle.

In truth, Uruguay were nothing like the side praised on paper with star strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez not really looking interested during the preliminary round. Oscar Tabarez’ side eventually exited the competition at this stage with just three points.

Quarter Final

Heading into the quarter final with South Korea, there was never any real optimism that Team GB would sweep aside their Asian competitors with ease but instead hope of a victory but via a slender margin once more.

In the first half, South Korea dictated the play and dominated possession with the step up in class an obvious distinction. They went ahead on 29 minutes courtesy of an impressive strike by Sunderland frontman Ji Dong-Won.

Team GB equalised almost against the run of play as Aaron Ramsey slotted home a penalty on 36 minutes after the South Korean defence unluckily handled in the box.

But in hindsight, then came Team GB’s downfall after Ramsey stepped up to take a second penalty following a high tackle on Sturridge from Hwang Seokho.

The Arsenal midfielder who looked nervous saw his effort palmed away by Jung Sung-Ryong and the potential for a cushion in the game was taken away in an instance.

From here on in, South Korean confidence grew and they tested a tired-looking Team GB before the enduring fixture went all the way to penalties.

All penalties were dispatched relatively clinically, with defenders such as Craig Dawson stepping up and scoring admirably, despite their slender experience.

However after South Korea slotted their fifth penalty, all pressure was on Daniel Sturridge who shimmied and dithered for a second, giving South Korean substitute goalkeeper Lee Bum-Young the crucial few milliseconds to advance and push away Sturridge’s strike. And Team GB were out.

Going forward

Great Britain should definitely send a side to Rio 2016 in my opinion with Olympic football being greatly received despite fears many would overlook the competition, deemed small fry in comparison to the likes of the World Cup or European Championships.

Yes, Olympic football will always be inferior to these competitions but it had a refreshing sense of difference in that we were able to bear witness to wily old campaigners such as Ryan Giggs playing alongside relatively spring chickens in the form of Danny Rose and Joe Allen. This can only do well in the development and experience of youngsters in their exposure to tournament-based football.

Of course, being at home, crowds were expectedly busier than they ever would be half way across the world in Brazil in four years’ time but after Team GB’s latest exit, we have been able to see a team that is not dominant in terms of being called a favourite but an outfit who is unquestionably competitive, a potential dark horse and most certainly a healthy work in progress.

By Taylor Williams - Follow me on Twitter @Taylor_Will1989 - Visit my blog - thetrickywinger.blogspot.com

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