If watching people chasing each other around a track, or throwing objects around on a field isn’t your idea of entertainment, then there are plenty of other sports at the Olympic games to keep you half interested. After the much hyped build up to the games it’s natural to feel disappointed when you realise athletics isn’t really that good to watch, and the goings on at your local baths are more exciting than the 200 metre freestyle swimming. To put it in a football context, it’s similar to the build up to an England performance at a major tournament – all hype, expectation, sponsorship and waffle – but not much of an end product.
The build up the the football at the London games has been somewhat underwhelming, with only a story about David Beckham’s non-selection making any headlines, and some Scottish people getting angry about nothing for no reason.
Team GB are taking part in the competition for the first time since 600 BC when an Iron Age XI were sent to Greece to compete in an early form of the game. They triumphed against the Greeks but were crushed by the Romans in the latter stages.
Back in the present day Team GB (representing Wales and England) have been reformed, but success in the tournament will be a tough ask for Stuart Pearce’s charges. Having been thrown together on a whim they will have to learn to play and gel as a team in a short space of time, whereas most of the other nations involved, especially the South Americans and Spain, are using this as a warm up to their World Cup campaigns in the build up to 2014. These nations already have established internationals in their side, and it’s just a case of which young players will shine in this tournament enough to break into the senior team permanently.
Brazil and the Class for 2014
These differences were evident in the recent warm up game between Team GB and Brazil. The Brazilian side contained players such as Oscar, Neymar, Damiao, Rafael, Romulo, Pato, Ganso, Lucas Moura, Danilo, and goalkeeper Rafael Cabral; all of whom are emerging as top class players, and all of whom meet the under 23 criteria for the Olympic squad. Thiago Silva, one of the best centre backs in world football, Marcelo of Real Madrid, and the in demand forward Hulk have been added to their squad as their quota of three over 23 players, and here you begin to see the gulf in class between the favourites and Team GB. The British side did well to limit the score to 2-0 on Friday, all things considered.
Uruguay and the British Group
The next obstacles for Team GB to overcome will appear in the shape of Uruguay, Senegal, and UAE in the group stages of the tournament. Uruguay will be looking to evolve their squad after winning the Copa America in 2011, and take the team to the next level for the 2014 campaign. One of the overachievers in international football – taking into account their population and relatively small pool of players compared to other nations – Uruguay have chosen Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and defensive midfielder Edigo Arevalo Rios as their overage players, with their aforementioned captain Suarez being considered by many as one of the best players in international football. If this wasn’t enough they also have their own bunch of future stars. Defenders Sebastian Coates and Alexis Rolin are set to be the senior team’s future centre back pairing and they also have an attacking threat from players such as Gaston Ramirez, Abel Hernandez, and the newcomer to the international scene, Jonathan Urretaviscaya.
With the top two from each group going through to the knockout stages, Great Britain will also have to look out for the Senegalese side. Having chosen an over 23 trio of Papa Gueye, Mohamed Diame, and prolific striker Dame N’Doye they will be looking for performances to from younger players to stake their claim for inclusion in the senior side as they prepare for January’s African Nations tournament.
Contenders Ready – Spain, Mexico and South Korea
After dominating international football in recent years, Spain will be hoping to add Olympic gold to their trophy haul and further enhance their reputation as one of the best international teams of all time. This under 23 squad is the next wave of players who are similar in style to the main squad, and look set to slot into a senior role with ease, as and when required. All players in the team have at least one senior cap, and they have three players in Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, and Javi Martinez who were part of the recent European Championship winning squad. Stars such as David de Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta, Iker Munain, and Cristian Tello could consider themselves unlucky to not already be in the senior squad regularly, such is the depth of talent in Spanish football at the moment.
Of the other contenders Mexico are probably the strongest with South Korea as the obligatory surprise package. Mexico will turn out a side of stereotypically quick minded, quick footed, technically gifted players which will give any slow defensive lines a few worries. Giovani dos Santos, wasted by harry Redknapp at Spurs, still qualifies as an under 23 player despite already having 59 senior caps on his coat hanger. South Korea also have a relatively experienced side for this age group, and will look to English based strikers Park Chu-Young and Ji Dong-Won to fire them into the latter stages.
That’s Entertainment (kind of)
The football tournament at the Olympics may not lead to stadium sell outs and two hour build up programs on multiple TV channels, but nations such as Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil will offer fans a chance to see the future stars of international football, and if Team GB can get some team unity within a short space of time they might put up a good fight. You’ll still have to put up with those pesky BBC “commentators” though.