Olympics and after

Mexico's oribe peralta scored with an unopposed header from a right wing free kick.-AP

Olympic football consistently makes more money and draws more spectators than even athletics, the undeniable cynosure of any Olympiad, writes Brian Glanville.

Around 6,000 saw that fascinating Olympic final at Wembley between the remarkable Mexicans and beaten Brazil. Almost as many watched Great Britain’s game there against the United Arab Emirates. There were attendances of 70,000 when Team GB played at Cardiff, twice. So much for the absurd general media pessimism expressed about the soccer tournament before it began.

We were told that it would be a mere marginal event, overshadowed by a profusion of other events, and something of an anticlimax, coming as it did so close to the dramas of the European Championship in Eastern Europe.

I must say such attitudes puzzled and disappointed me at the time, knowing, as I did, that Olympic football consistently makes more money and draws more spectators than even athletics, the undeniable cynosure of any Olympiad. Yet not only the men’s tournament but the women’s flourished, over 10,000 watching their final at Wembley.

Yet again, Brazil failed as they have always done to win the Olympic title and for all the technical brilliance of their young stars, such as Neymar (so anonymous in the second half of the final), Oscar and Marcelo, that experienced left back, they were deservedly beaten by a Mexican side which bore so little resemblance to the senior Mexican team, whereas Brazil had been expected to provide the basis for the 2014 World Cup which will be staged there. Give or take a Ganso Luiz or a Ramirez, this was close enough to a full Brazilian side.

Yet the Mexicans coolly and efficiently frustrated their attack and profited as had other teams from serious lapses in the Brazilian defence. To give away a goal in record time, some 24 seconds from the kick off, was an absolute humiliation and when the ever dangerous Oribe Peralta, who had scored it, followed up with a virtually unopposed header from that right wing free kick, all Brazil’s second half territorial superiority had gone for nothing. Significant perhaps was that their much trumpeted attack came to life only when a bigger, more straightforward figure in Hulk arrived in the second half.

Marco Fabien, who had scored no fewer than seven goals in the recent under-21 tournament in Toulon (France), which Mexico won, and Peralta were incisive attacking central midfielders. “Why can’t we dream of the gold?” demanded Fabien before the Games began in England. Redeemed as he has been since a six-month suspension when he and other players were punished for consorting with prostitutes at the Copa America. Brazil had already exposed their frailties when struggling through only 3-2 against an unfancied Honduras team reduced to 10 men.

But what of Uruguay, twice winners of the Olympic title in 1924 and 1928 — after which their supposedly amateur team promptly won the first World Cup in 1930 — they didn’t even get out of the first group round in 2012. This despite the fact that their team included two over age attackers reckoned to be among the best in the world Luis Suarez and Napoli’s Cavani. They actually lost to a Senegal side reduced to 10 men, then lost even to a Great Britain team thrown together at short notice, in which that mercurial, sometimes incandescent winger, Wales’ 33-year-old Craig Bellamy, excelled himself, though afterwards he modestly insisted, against all evidence, that he had no special talent.

Stuart Pearce, who missed a vital penalty in the Turin World Cup semifinal shootout in 1990, still seems to be pursued, even as the GB Manager, by penalty woes. Against a well organised South Korean side in the first knockout round, the GB side succumbed only on shootout spot kicks. Having discovered a splendid 19-year-old goalkeeper in Jack Butland, who is yet to make a single appearance for his club Birmingham City, and young midfielder of quality in England’s Tom Cleverley and Wales’ Joe Alen (now expensively transferred from Swansea to Liverpool), they didn’t lose a game in normal time. In the process fully justifying Pearce’s admirable refusal to bow to mindless pressure, to choose the faded and over-publicised David Beckham.

Spain were another much vaunted team which fell heavily by the wayside, after the consistent triumphs of their seniors. Even though the young Spanish team was reinforced by the celebrated likes of full international attacker Juan Mata. No goals, no points.

From South East Asia, the Japanese and South Koreans gave impressive accounts of themselves. Japan has certainly made long strides since the false dawn of their performance in the 1968 tournament in Mexico City. I remember being greatly taken by the displays of their powerfully built centre forward, Kamampto. But, for numerous years to come, that team, so shrewdly coached by the little German Dettmar Cramer who would later manage Bayern Munich, had no sequel in stature. Gradually, things would improve.

It’s deeply unlikely that Great Britain — which included no Scots or Northern Irish players and in which the various talented Welshmen refused to sing the national anthem — will ever be reconstituted. There had been no British team since the Italian Olympics of 1960, when a genuinely amateur side — a rarity for some 40 years ago — held the full Italy under-21 side to a 2-2 draw in Rome, a match I saw and still remember. Only the fact that London staged these Olympics enabled GB to field a team which didn’t have to qualify. Meanwhile, all hail to the young Mexicans.