It was a very bad idea for the powers-that-be at Team GB to pick Brazil as the opponents for our first and final warm-up match ahead of the men’s football competition at London 2012. For a team that has never played together before, a gentler introduction than Neymar, Sandro and Hulk could have been found.
As it was, a 2-0 defeat to one of the gold medal favourites was not exactly an embarrassing result, but the game was certainly a missed opportunity to prepare for the challenge of beating Senegal and the United Arab Emirates. Because make no mistake, qualifying for the quarter-finals by beating those two teams would be a real achievement for Team GB.
The lack of coordination among GB players was apparent. At the back, defensive lapses accompanied both of Brazil’s goals, including from Micah Richards, one of the three overage players Stuart Pearce has included in the squad. One positive was a strong performance from keeper Jack Butland, after his introduction in the second half.
There was almost no attacking threat from GB at all in the first half, with Daniel Sturridge, Tom Cleverley and Danny Rose unable to penetrate the Brazilian defence. Only Craig Bellamy looked to pose any sort of threat. The second half was better, with GB exerting much more pressure. Danny Rose in particular had a number of good touches from an attacking left-back position, although without ever suggesting an end product could be delivered.
It seems odd to say about a player who has never once appeared for the team, but Gareth Bale was sorely missed. It was exactly his combination of pace and directness – the same qualities that helped Rose and Bellamy in their best moments – that GB needed to break Brazil down.
Another that was missed was David Beckham. Ryan Giggs, who was chosen ahead of Beckham by manager Stuart Pearce, plodded through the game aimlessly. With his younger and more inexperienced colleagues badly in need of coordination, captain Giggs seemed an anonymous presence.
How the British Olympic Association must be regretting the choice of Pearce as manager. He has defended his omission of Beckham on the ground that sentiment has no place in football. What utter rubbish. Pearce has been responsible for some of the most sentiment-filled moments in recent football history – particularly his penalty miss against Germany at the 1990 world cup, and then his neck-bulging celebration after scoring one against Spain at Euro 1996.
His choice of Giggs over Beckham is also sentimental, only of a different sort. It is the sentiment macho, Mr Football traditionalism Pearce tried to embody. Thus, Beckham’s off-the-field efforts to bring the Olympics to London and promote the game more generally are completely dismissed.
Giggs’ performances in the past year certainly don’t suggest he is one of the best three over-23 players in the entire United Kingdom (outside England’s Euro 2012 squad). He is being rewarded for being Welsh in an era when Wales don’t qualify for major international tournaments – if Giggs had already played a World Cup or two, it’s highly doubtful he’d be at the Olympics. He is also the beneficiary of Pearce’s bloody-minded determination to ignore those off-the-field antics that have tarnished Giggs’ reputation (ask his brother).
None of that would matter if Pearce was capable of moulding his group into a coherent unit and challenge for a medal. However, despite having enough quality at his disposal to guarantee Team GB get out of their group, the signs are worrying that our first entry into Olympics football for several decades is going to end in failure.