Short of fitness, lacking quality strikers and struggling to retain possession when under pressure, Euro 2012 hung over the Olympic hosts as they let slip their lead
By George Ankers
Maybe Wales were right to worry about their sovereignty – as, despite the unified squad, Team GB’s 1-1 draw with Senegal was just like watching England.
None of the players on show for the hosts had taken part in Euro 2012, and Roy Hodgson had gone out of his way to remove Stuart Pearce from his Three Lions coaching set-up before the tournament, but the same old problems were visible.
There may not be any surprise from the more cynical of observers to note that the addition of players from Wales did not suddenly transform a largely English side into world-beaters, but many home fans would have hoped for a more refreshing performance from a group of highly-rated young prospects.
Hodgson’s tactics in Poland and Ukraine were understandable and necessary, being as they were a consequence of the resources at his disposal. But that does not make it any less inspiring to see the same issues blighting the younger generation.
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Joe Allen was inaccurate by his high passing standards - how ironic that the match programme erroneously labelled him English - and Pearce might have been wishing that ‘the Swansea Iniesta’, Leon Britton, were over 23. As one would expect, captain Ryan Giggs demonstrated keen vision, but he was the only man to do so.
As Senegal pushed for an equaliser in the second half, the hosts needed to stay calm and retain possession sensibly to alleviate pressure. That they could not – and that players on these shores are not taught well enough and young enough to do so – was a frustration for both fans and neutral observers. It is a basic deficiency seemingly omnipresent throughout British football, and nobody wants to watch supposed stars exhibit basic deficiencies.
A general lack of fitness pervaded the side as well, the reality of what, in effect, is an early pre-season game causing a similar lack of sharpness as the long, physically taxing Premier League season inspired in the fatigued Euro 2012 squad.
Also like England, Team GB could count themselves fortunate to have had a good goalkeeper watching their backs. Jack Butland caught the eye with a key save from Ibrahima Balde in the second half, reflexively dropping low to his corner, though an errant goal kick straight to an opponent went unpunished.
Imagination was another box not ticked for the hosts. Craig Bellamy’s straightforward industry was rewarded when he capitalised on disorganised defending to tuck away at a set-piece, but Pearce suffers from the same absence of quality strikers as plagues Hodgson.
Daniel Sturridge continued his switched-off form of the past seven months with a performance so feather-light that he was hauled off at half-time for Bolton youngster Marvin Sordell. The substitute acquitted himself reasonably, a fine shot unluckily coming back off the crossbar, but he is not yet an international forward, even at this age level.
The only attacking option who might add some invention, Scott Sinclair, was left on the bench, and the Swansea man surely merits game time against UAE, but there is no young centre forward in the land particularly wronged for being overlooked. Forget David Beckham – Grant Holt might feel that he could have solved a bigger problem as an overage player.
As it is, set-pieces will probably have to continue as the main vector of attack, but, on the evidence of the day’s earlier fixture in this group, Team GB will have to improve all across the pitch if they are to cope with the impressive Emirati side.
Of the things that Pearce actually can change, he should probably begin with basic team selection. Calling up Micah Richards, who plays his club football at right-back, as his only player to regularly play that position and then fielding him in the centre with a left-back to his right, is an obvious mismanagement of resources.
That there should be three left-backs - Ryan Bertrand, Neil Taylor and Danny Rose - on the pitch from the start in various positions is nonsensical and unfair on Sinclair and James Tomkins, who have earned the opportunity to impress in their respective positions. Pearce might have to contend with innate technical flaws but the least he can do is pick players for their positions.
Hodgson’s England drew their first game of the summer 1-1 and went on to exit at the quarter-final stage having not outright lost a single game. With UAE and Uruguay to come, Team GB will have to go some to match that feat – but at least it is clear that they have the blueprint.
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