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Made in Wales: Allen, Bellamy & Ramsey go Great guns for Britain as medals become realistic target

Made in Wales: Allen, Bellamy & Ramsey go Great guns for Britain as medals become realistic target

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Team GB progressed from Group A as winners after Daniel Sturridge secured an impressive victory over the highly-fancied Uruguayan outfit in Cardiff

COMMENT
By Liam Twomey at the Millenium Stadium

As the Team GB players filed off the Millennium Stadium pitch to a rapturous reception on Wednesday evening, Lady Gaga's 'The Edge of Glory' blared at full volume over the tannoy system. While hardly subtle, the message was there for all to hear.

In beating a lacklustre yet spirited Uruguay 1-0 in Cardiff, Stuart Pearce's men secured their place in the quarter-finals of the London 2012 football tournament as winners of Group A. They also silenced once and for all those who doubted they were capable of claiming Great Britain's first Olympic medal in the sport since 1912.

A week ago, when they were pegged back by Senegal at Old Trafford, it was a result which appeared to confirm the pre-tournament suspicions of the majority: That all Team GB could hope to enrich this competition with would be a little domestic interest before they swiftly bowed out, leaving the serious contenders to fight it out for the medals.

Yet such quick judgments are often proved foolish. While Spain imploded and Switzerland floundered, it is the hosts who emerged as the European torch-bearers. Galvanised rather than overwhelmed by home support, they have grown stronger with every match.

In Uruguay, they faced the current champions of South America, who came third at that very same World Cup in which England so disgraced themselves in South Africa.

This, of course, was a younger incarnation of that team, with emerging talents such as Sebastian Coates and Gaston Ramirez bolstered by the proven quality offered by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, but many still expected them to be too strong.

In truth, it was a match Team GB never looked like losing. Uruguay found themselves out-thought and out-passed in the midfield in the first half, and it was no surprise or injustice when they were carved open for Daniel Sturridge's winner. The road proved much rockier after the break but, by that stage, Pearce's men had already proved their credentials.

That they did so in Cardiff was particularly fitting, because much of what had been best about Team GB in this tournament has had a distinctly Welsh flavour.

Craig Bellamy's inclusion in the squad at the expense of David Beckham was scoffed at by almost everyone not of a Welsh or Liverpudlian persuasion, but it has proved a masterstroke.

Starved of major tournament experience for the entirety of his international career, he has seized this opportunity with both hands, playing with the enthusiasm and energy of a much younger man. He already has the honour of scoring the first goal of the campaign against Senegal, but his determination is such that only greater glory will satisfy him.

Ryan Giggs, in international terms arguably the greatest lost talent of the modern era, has also graced this stage. His experience, professionalism and intelligence have inspired the squad's younger guns to scale new heights and, despite missing the Uruguay match with a hamstring strain, his contribution to this campaign is far from over.

With or without their elder statesman, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey have shone in midfield. At the Millennium Stadium Allen was comfortably the best player on the pitch, delivering the kind of assured and cultured display which highlights exactly why Brendan Rodgers is so keen for his former Swansea disciple to join him at Liverpool.

Ramsey has played with the maturity afforded him by his country's captaincy, while Neil Taylor, the least vaunted member of the Welsh contingent, has been ever-present at full-back. Against Uruguay he shifted from the left to the right flank with no discernible drop in performance, and even played two of the best passes of the match to unleash Bellamy.

The political machinations involved in the formation of Team GB led some to suggest that including players from the other home nations would raise more problems than benefits.

Instead, it now brings only a shudder to imagine where this group would be without their Welsh stalwarts, and a certain sadness to wonder what more might have been possible if Gareth Bale had been fit enough to stand among them.

As it is, South Korea await Team GB in the quarter-finals. They are talented, organised and hard-working, but also eminently beatable.

Win and Pearce's men will almost certainly face Brazil in the semi-finals, where the carrot of a final berth is enhanced by the promise of a medal, whether gold or silver.

The Selecao have looked a cut above everyone else in the tournament, and would surely be expected to end the Team GB fairytale.

Yet this is a situation Pearce and his men know well. With momentum further fuelled by a wave of popular support, they will fancy their chances of putting the odds to the sword and forging their own destiny.

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