London: The last time a Great Britain team played football Brazil were still basking in the glow of their famous World Cup final victory. This was 1971 and as the great side of Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto were celebrated around the world, a collection of British amateurs were being thumped 5-0 by Bulgaria. That was it for a British football team.
Until now. For the first time, a team of British professionals came together to represent the union against the most iconic team in the national game. They might have stood more of a chance than the intrepid amateurs of four decades ago but they still could get nowhere near Brazil, inspired by Neymar. Stuart Pearce’s Team GB were beaten at a canter by a side that showed why they have been established as favourites for the gold medal.
“They are an outstanding side,” Pearce said. “They are the favourites to win the tournament and you can see why. We understand better the magnitude of the task ahead of us. Whoever beats this side is likely to win gold and, unless we play them again, we will not meet a side as strong as that.”
Pearce’s team begin their challenge against Senegal on Thursday – their first Olympics in 52 years – and, while they will present a more modest challenge, there is plenty to address. Brazil swiftly cruised into a 2-0 lead then played with plenty in reserve. Only three superb late saves from Jack Butland prevented the scoreline being more emphatic.
Throughout, Britain struggled to contain Neymar. With his ragged mullet and improbable array of tricks he will always be the centre of attention. While there were murmurs of appreciation for his exhibition pirouettes, he soon lost his audience: having slipped over once he ended up face down after another trick failed to come off. With the diva playing dead, the crowd lost patience.
He had already made Brazil’s first, after just 13 minutes. Oscar had elegantly turned away from Tom Cleverley who clumsily cut him down. With Team GB expecting a Hulk shot, Neymar instead bent over a clever cross which Sandro headed over Jason Steele.
He then scored the second. Hulk, who was taking a decidedly laconic attitude to running, suddenly burst free of Micah Richards who dived in to try to rescue the situation, conceding a penalty. The previously sedate atmosphere changed as the crowd did their best to put Neymar off as he took a fast-bowler’s run-up to the spot-kick. He coolly put it into the bottom corner, beating local boy Steele for good measure.
Despite Team GB making a robust start, Brazil were soon playing effortlessly (Hulk taking it too literally at times). With Sandro and Romulo anchoring, the attacking players were free to do their stuff. Oscar, the 20 year-old who is moving to Chelsea, looked especially composed on the ball.
If Brazil looked relaxed, Team GB had the look of a side still finding their feet. Their best chance in the first half came when Ryan Giggs, the captain, hit a fine free-kick to the far post which Micah Richards headed dangerously back into the six-yard box from a tight angle. Pearce reserved praise for Giggs and Joe Allen but conceded there is plenty of work to do.
“We have had two weeks to prepare for this whereas Brazil have had two or three years preparing to win Olympic gold,” he said. “We have five more training sessions to work before the Senegal to keep improving.”
A raft of substitutions at half-time gave Pearce the chance to look at some of his other options. Craig Bellamy, frustrated on the wing in the first half moved to play up front as Daniel Sturridge, who has been recovering from meningitis, was replaced at the break. Bellamy almost scored, too, denied at point-blank range by a brilliant Rafael Cabral save after 57 minutes.
Brazil kept on coming. Neil Taylor had switched to right back in the half-time re-shuffle and Neymar soon had him in his sights. The Brazilian beat him from a standing start with his incredible acceleration before teeing up Oscar from the by-line. Only a good save from another Butland, a half-time substitute, prevented the goal. It then took a brilliant Taylor cover tackle to prevent him scoring his second.
Team GB looked much better balanced in the second half wore on. Steven Caulker and Jack Cork, who had both come on, were impressive and brought real composure and confidence to the build-up play. Both made a very strong case for starting against Senegal.
The only injury concern was Aaron Ramsey complaining of a tight groin.
As for Brazil, their team looks settled. Mano Menezes, the coach, ominously warned that there is much more to come from his side. On this form it is going to take a decidedly flamboyant performer to upstage Neymar over the next few weeks. If he gets the balance between indulgence and ingenuity right, he could lead his team to gold at Wembley..
Great Britain (4-2-3-1): Steele (Butland 46), Bertrand (Sinclair 49), Richards (Dawson 74), Tomkins (Caulker 46), Taylor, Cleverley, Allen, Giggs (Ramsey 63), Rose, Bellamy (Sordell 64),Sturridge (Cork 46). Booked: Richards.
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Rafael, Da Silva, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo (Alex Sandro 80), Sandro (Danilo 85), Romulo, Oscar (Lucas 68), Hulk (Ganso 68), Neymar, Leandro Damiao (Alexandre Pato 74). Subs: Neto, Bruno Uvini. Goals: Sandro 12, Neymar 35 pen.
BDST: 1445 HRS, July 21, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
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