Whisper it quietly, but maybe football at London 2012 is taking off after all.
There has been plenty of controversy over whether it should be an Olympic sport and whether, in any case, anybody was bothered – but it looks like the answer to the latter is a resounding ‘yes’.
Nearly 70,000 people turned out at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to watch Team GB secure their place in the quarter finals with a 1-0 victory over Uruguay on Wednesday, this coming after 85,000 saw Stuart Pearce’s men beat UAE 3-1 three days earlier. And as Team GB gain momentum in the tournament (spurred on by the fantastic performance of the women’s side) the interest in the men’s football is bubbling up nicely.
|Confederation Cup - Group A|
Of course, the success of the British team is paramount for keeping the public onside (as it is in any Olympic sport) and the idea that people were going to pay decent money to go and watch South Korea v Gabon in the group stages is as fanciful now as it was before a ball was kicked. But now the quarter-finals are upon us and – crucially – Team GB are among the eight sides still in the competition with the podium in their sights, the tournament has some life.
Team GB have exceeded expectations (okay, my expectations) in winning Group A, taking seven points from nine and eliminating the much-fancied but desperately disappointing Uruguayans.
And it has to be said, Team GB have improved with each passing game: the difference in performance from their pre-Olympic friendly against Brazil, where they were embarrassingly outplayed, to the way they largely kept the talented Uruguay at bay (give or take the odd late scare) was marked.
I’m going to give Pearce some credit for that (through gritted teeth) but improved match fitness and sharpness has undoubtedly helped as well and now at the quarter-final stage, the medal places look wide open.
Pearce’s men are back in Cardiff for the last-eight match against Korea Republic and the odds compilers at bwin are expecting the Team GB bandwagon to keep rolling on. Great Britain are 23/20 favourites, with Korea 23/10 to end British hopes and the draw (after 90 minutes) priced up at 11/5.
I must admit, I expect a Team GB victory, too. Korea came into the tournament scoring goals and in their three pre-tournament friendlies scored eight in total (including a 3-0 win over Senegal, which looks a good result now), but since arriving in London, the goals have dried up.
In three Group B matches Korea served up two drab 0-0 draws, their solitary victory coming against a poor Switzerland side. That 2-1 win put them through at Gabon’s expense, but for all their technical ability and defensive meanness, they lack punch up front and Team GB could exploit that.
A first clean sheet for Pearce’s charges last time out put will please the ex-defender, who always adopts a safety-first approach. I don’t think it is going to be a classic by any means – Team GB’s matches have been very dull so far – but I think Britain have enough about them to break through and keep Korea at bay, so the 23/20 is my play.
I’d also have a go on the 3/1 on a Team GB win a game featuring under 2.5 goals - I expect it to be tight and the odd goal might be enough to send the hosts into the semi-finals.
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