Stuart Pearce's side overcame UAE with a 3-1 win in front of over 85,000 fans at Wembley, dispelling the seeming disinterest surrounding the tournament
By Jonathan Birchall at Wembley
As the crowd clapped along as if building up to a long jump, the iffy tracksuits and manic Union flag waving began to make sense after all. The Olympics and football looked a near perfect match.
With a 3-1 win over UAE, even Team GB appear to have caught the bug, Olympamania they call it, as they prospered in an atmosphere free of suspicion or cynicism, in contrast to the mood that greeted them at Old Trafford last week during the 1-1 draw with Senegal.
Wembley, however, always expects, and as UAE equalised on the hour mark through Rashid Essa, what had appeared as disregard in Manchester soon became discontent among the 85,000 who had broken this Games' attendance record en masse in north west London.
Be it through national pride, or even a growing affinity with Stuart Pearce's side, voices were raised and fingers were pointed. This was a crowd that cared.
It was a crowd that represented the largest attendance at an Olympic football match outside of the United States, frustrated, furious but backing Team GB to the hilt, and for Pearce and the Olympic marketing machine, some justification of a project that has at times looked utterly doomed.
There was a fear, most notably following the dire defeat to Brazil in Middlesbrough a fortnight ago, that this was a tournament so far removed the Games 'proper' that the British public simply wouldn't buy into it - that over half a century of Olympic football had led to a permanent disinterest within a football-loving country that knows what it likes and likes what it knows.
The position of the Scottish and Northern Irish FA's to all but boycott the Games, fearful of losing their own identity under Brand Britain, only added to a feeling that this was the little competition that Boris and Coe forgot, or simply wanted to leave to its own devices.
And whether the political posturing was justified or not, as Britain, all of Britain, backed their athletes, cyclists, swimmers and the rest, football remained a pillar of disharmony.
Team GB's clash with Uruguay in Cardiff may well prove that all is still not well within the corridors of footballing power in Britian, with the national anthem potentially acting as the boo boys' warm up before Luis Suarez takes to the pitch as pantomime villain-in-chief on Wednesday.
On the pitch, however, any previous divisions are crumbling, and the impressive turnaround against UAE neatly accompanied Great Britain's first medal-winning day of these Games.
Craig Bellamy, who himself was targeted in Manchester, walked off to his second standing ovation in four days after another devastating show out wide.
Two inspired substitutions from Pearce, Daniel Sturridge and Scott Sinclair, each finished off the tiring Emirati side, just as the pressure was being turned up after Essa’s excellent leveller, with the Al Wasl midfielder destroying James Tomkins for pace as if the West Ham man was a shotputter, rather than a shot blocker.
Beyond Bellamy, Jack Butland continues to look assured in a fashion unfamiliar to English goalkeepers, while Tom Cleverley and Joe Allen are growing into a pair of central midfielders that work in tandem, rather than opposition. Around them a side is starting to form and the momentum, you sense, is only just beginning to build.
At Wembley, football finally felt part of London 2012, and so did Team GB.
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