What did we learn from Team GB?
As British Olympic athletes racked up milestone after milestone on Saturday night, one inevitability remained exasperatingly constant.
Whatever the badge on the shirt, whatever the tournament, whoever the personnel, footballers from these small islands still seem incapable of winning a quarter-final penalty shootout.
Regardless of how triumphant Team GB’s medal haul may eventually be, the likes of Ryan Giggs, Jack Butland and Craig Bellamy are unlikely to be in TV montages alongside Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and Sir Chris Hoy anytime soon.
After a turgid 120 minutes against the South Koreans, Daniel Sturridge’s stuttering run-up and poorly placed penalty, condemned Team GB’s footballers to the history books, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be listed in the index under ‘disappointment.’
However, this one-off competition team did highlight some interesting points, for all concerned.
Wales will qualify for a major tournament
Team GB’s Welsh contingent were at the heart of almost everything that was good about the side’s play.
Joe Allen, despite having a relatively poor quarter-final, dictated the play from the middle of the park in the same way he had for Swansea City all last season.
Neil Taylor’s pace and vision on both flanks cemented his place as the most promising fullback in British football.
Even though Ryan Giggs, when he played, was nowhere near his best. Craig Bellamy made up for it on the right wing.
The Liverpool forward was GB’s player of the tournament. He terrified defenders, constantly threatening the goal and chased every lost cause.
If Chris Coleman can harness their talents properly and possibly develop two or three more decent players, Wales stand a great chance of making it to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Joe Hart may actually have some competition
Jack Butland may have had a few shaky moments and hardly covered himself in glory against the Koreans but at 19, he looks an excellent prospect.
Hype has surrounded him a while but the Olympics was the first chance, that most people (not including League Two fans) had, to see him play first team football.
Generally he rose to the challenge, making excellent saves against Uruguay and Senegal and marshalling together a shaky back four.
It may be too early for him to challenge Joe Hart for the England number one jersey but his raw ability and level-headed composure, can only stand him in good stead.
Penalty shootouts are definitively not a lottery
Anyone who has read Simon Kuper’s excellent book ‘Why England Lose’ will already know this but dismissing the dreaded penalties, as anything other than a demonstrable skill is ludicrous.
Almost 60% of shootouts are won by the team that goes first, so it does not equate to a coin flip.
Even without knowing all the statistics, all you have to do was watch the South Korean penalties.
Every single one was coolly dispatched into the top corner of the net, every single one of them was almost completely unsaveable.
It was plain to see: you can train yourself to be good at taking penalties. The British players took their kicks with the instructions “just score", while the Koreans had obviously been told “put it in the top corner", where he can’t save it.”
As a result, there were no pointless stuttering run-ups or flash moves, they simply did as they were instructed. Sometimes a simple, consistent strategy is all you need.
England’s Under-21s are short of quality
Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell may have been missing through injury but the fact that the Welsh were the standout players speaks volumes.
While Taylor looked very tidy at fullback, his English colleagues simply did not match up to his performances.
Ryan Bertrand was incredibly ponderous in defence when called upon, while Danny Rose is still dining out on his volley against Arsenal more than two years ago.
There was no guile or creativity from any of the English players that still qualify for youth level football.
Steven Caulker was strong at times and Butland is still growing but it appears that Stuart Pearce’s day job may give him a few headaches in the coming months and years.
So the curtain comes down on a surreal few weeks but sadly, it does not end with a bang but with a whimper.
I doubt I will see another football team with a union jack on their shirts in my lifetime.
All we can hope is that lessons are learned from London 2012 by all of the home nations and that before long, we are all at a tournament together again soon but on opposite sides of course.
By Jamie Stanley
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