It only took a surprise win against Uruguay and an even more unlikely position atop Group A for the question to be asked if Team GB can win gold in the football. Craig Bellamy was first to put that unwarranted overconfidence to bed, and it was refreshing to see.
Team GB went into the Olympics with no hope. Actually, there was hope of another embarrassing or soul-shattering exit, probably via penalties. And that’s what we got, as South Korea cemented Bellamy’s words with their own hammer blow to a set of unattainable goals.
Fans and the media might have been hugely encouraged to find that Spain and Uruguay, two of the favourites, were out and no longer a threat. Both were awful throughout the group stages and displayed few signs of fighting for a medal. But Team GB haven’t really given gold medal performances, either.
The attack has at times been flat, with Bellamy being one of the few consistent threats in the final third. Daniel Sturridge has done nothing to merit a place through the middle, as he so craves. The Chelsea forward’s decisions and control have simply not been good enough, and is he really the type of player who leads a team to a gold or even silver medal?
But it’s the same story for England. Every international tournaments is viewed as “our year” or “our big chance.” The players are in place (although definitely not for Stuart Pearce’s Team GB) and the Golden Generation has been given a good injection of youth. It’s good to be confident, but it started to look silly a long time ago.
The targets that fans or the media have set for either England or Team GB have totally ignored the strength of other nations. The Euros had teams like Spain, Germany and unlikely finalists Italy battling it out for ultimate victory. Likewise, the Olympics had and still have Brazil, who are now competing in the final against Mexico. All of those teams have been better technically or mentality than what England or Team GB have been able to put together, and yet that tired question was brought up anyway.
What’s the point in addressing grass roots and looking to develop young players with smaller pitches. The aim is positive and needed: footballers need to build a better understanding of how to use the ball from an early age. But those changes have been implemented because as a nation we’re terrible in international tournaments.
Do football experts forget that there are still games to play between the first knockout round and actually lifting the trophy or winning gold? Or do they all share some sort of blind optimism that players like Daniel Sturridge or Joe Allen can match the attacking prowess of Neymar and Leandro Damiao?
It’s embarrassing to build up targets like that only to be shot down in the next game. At the Olympics, teams like Japan and South Korea have been disciplined and hard working. They’ve taken their chances and have looked good overall. Yet no one seemed to consider them good enough to win the gold, while both advanced further than Team GB.
We can’t seem to get enough of it. Or rather, that small victory can’t come quick enough. Young English talents are rushed through their development to make a difference at international tournaments, only for their career to take a real hit from the surrounding circus. And on any other day, Uruguay could have equalised and even beaten Team GB in their final group game.
There’s no talk of luck or how poor the opposition was. But instead, we’re trying to justify ourselves as some kind of super power in the world of football. We have a nice, flash league that everyone likes, but that’s it.
America have nice, flash leagues that are hugely popular, but they do have the right to go into international tournaments full of confidence.
Team USA have more than a good chance of winning the gold in basketball. The women’s football team have been excellent throughout the tournament. Their gymnasts looked better than everyone else. Their swimmers are the best in the world, and hell, even their Ice Hockey team ran Team Canada all the way to overtime in the final in Vancouver two years ago. That’s a nation who can justify their confidence and targets.
Craig Bellamy was spot on when he basically told the reporter to keep his mouth shut and not put unnecessary pressure on a team who are simply not good enough.