GB Football Team: Stuttering Start

Tom Bodell continues his pieces for The Substantive on the newly formed men’s British football team competing under the banner of ‘Team GB’ in London 2012, reflecting on their opening draw with Senegal at Old Trafford.

For the second time in six days it was hardly classic stuff from Stuart Pearce’s Team GB, who, by full-time, could quite easily have been grateful to take a point from their opening match of London 2012.

The more one thinks about it, it was never going to be a walk in the park for GB, playing together properly for only the second time. Other competing nations do at least have the advantage of not being unified at the last minute to a backdrop of squabbles and disarray.

Of course, one could argue that a lot of these players have played with one another at club level, and whilst that is true of Swansea City quartet Joe Allen, Neil Taylor, Scott Sinclair and Steven Caulker, very few other players have featured together regularly.

It was odd from the off with Chelsea’s utility man Ryan Bertrand deployed in a utility role, starting on the right-hand side of midfield after featuring at right-back against Brazil. The former Gillingham youngster did eventually end up in a more natural left-midfield position, but it was certainly a case of square pegs in round holes.

Left-back Taylor found himself at right-back as Pearce continued with Micah Richards at centre-back – a position nobody other than Pearce has ever seen fit to play the Manchester City unit.

Team GB weren’t void of creativity altogether, but more often than not the final pass went astray in a first-half where Pearce’s charges enjoyed 61 per cent of the possession yet inexplicably created less than a handful of notable chances in a quiet first period.

Whilst Senegal, void of Papiss Demba Cisse and Demba Ba, would have looked more at home on a Taekwondo mat (is that the technical term?) at times during the first-half, they still managed to create several opportunities. It doesn’t take an expert to point out that Jack Butland’s woeful clearance should have been buried

The Birmingham City goalkeeper was helpless for the equaliser and apart from the aforementioned clearance, looked comfortable for a goalkeeper with only League Two experience under his belt. The former Cheltenham Town loanee made two particularly good stops within the space of a few minutes, one low to his left and the other high to his right. At just 19, it looks like England have a top-class ‘keeper waiting in the wings for Joe Hart’s retirement or fall from grace.

In a side packed with pace – Craig Bellamy and Daniel Sturridge to name just two – Team GB should have exploited Senegal’s willingness to dive into challenges. Whilst that might not be the most sporting tact to take, there’s no doubt that you can take advantage of persistent fouling by running at players and panicking them.

Though the second half saw the Senegalese dominate possession, and whilst their discipline let them down in the first 45, their finishing left them wondering what might have been by full-time. Joseph Koto’s side played higher up the pitch and as a result saw more of the ball, creating numerous problems for the GB back line.

By the time the equaliser did arrive, it had an air of inevitability about it. A superb ball whipped across the British back four cut every defender out of the equation, leaving Moussa Kanote the task of picking out a corner from inside the 18 yard box.

A stuttering start from Pearce’s Team GB; unable to follow up the ladies victory in Cardiff on Thursday – one suspects they will improve the more games they play together, but in such a short tournament there isn’t time for that.

Tom Bodell

The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview and download from Amazon and Smashwords. With past recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.