It has been as controversial as it has been derided, but the time is now upon the football community to rise as one, wave the British flag and get behind our brave boys as the Olympic football kicks off. Or something.
Okay, that may be wishful thinking considering that all attempts to raise significant interest for the football seem to have fallen on deaf ears (the thousands of unsold tickets tell their own story) but that doesn’t mean that the tournament can’t be deemed a success.
If the UK aren’t going to take it seriously (manager Stuart Pearce has correctly bemoaned his inability to pick all the best players available to him) then the other nations are sure to be in the opposite camp.
You only have to look at the 2008 tournament, won by an Argentina side that featured Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and more, to see that the other 15 sides will be giving their coaches the best possible chance of Olympic glory – an aim that, no matter what others may tell you, is not to be sniffed at.
There are some fine players on display at a tournament that will be more entertaining than some people think. It’s just a shame that Team GB might not be the ones providing the excitement.
Pearce is like a human antidote to excitement: his playing career might have been famous for passion and tub-thumping, but his managerial career, which continues to take him into bafflingly cushy jobs, has been an exercise in pragmatism. Tactically straight-jacketed, his Manchester City side could hardly score a goal and his stint with England Under-21s has been uninspiring at best.
It is not his fault that his 18-man squad has been thrown together late in the day, but I have no confidence he will be able to make the best of a bad hand and as such, the 3/5 on Team GB opening their Group A campaign with a win over Senegal at Old Trafford doesn’t appeal in the slightest. The Senegalese are 19/4 to cause what would be perceived as an upset, with the draw quoted at 13/5.
Senegal have had perhaps the most convoluted and unnecessarily complicated route to qualify for London 2012 and I won’t bore you with the exact details (I’d quite like you to carry on reading), but having finished fourth in the African CAF Under-23 Championships, they defeated Oman 2-0 at the City of Coventry Stadium in April to secure their place at the Olympics.
The Africans have some recognisable names in their squad, most notably West Ham’s Mohammed Diame, and coach Abdoukarime Diouf has moulded a team that is, above all, tough to beat and very difficult to score against.
In fact, Senegal’s games are noticeable for their lack of goals and that is why I am looking at the 11/5 that there are under 1.5 goals tonight.
In the ten games Senegal played in qualification, only one produced over 2.5 goals, with a staggering seven featuring one goal or fewer (four were 0-0), while two subsequent friendlies have finished in 1-0 and 2-0 wins – and that is enough of a pattern to suggest this is going to be tight.
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Pearce hardly sets his sides out to attack, so with his cautious nature complemented by Team GB’s lack of cohesion, it is going to be cagey. Add in the ‘must not lose’ mentality that often dominates the opening group games of any tournament and the 11/5 on under 1.5 goals has got to be the play here.
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