Huffpost UK Sport uk
Paul Vale Headshot

London 2012: Team GB Earn Draw In Olympic Opener Against Senegal At Old Trafford, Manchester

Posted: Updated:

“It's hard to know just how well it will turn out," said Mitt Romney on Wednesday when asked about London’s hosting of the Olympics.

It is a sentiment many Brits have probably shared in the months leading up to the Games.

Is security tight enough? Will the transport system withstand the influx? Can Boris Johnson go two weeks without offending a foreign dignitary?

team gb

72,000 fans packed Old Trafford to cheer on Team GB

On Thursday, the pageantry finally got underway, not in London but 200 miles north with the opening matches of the men’s football tournament at Old Trafford.

The stadium, the biggest club ground in the UK, was close to full - even for the undercard match, which saw Uruguay defeat the United Arab Emirates 2-1.

The game offered the boisterous Manchester crowd not only a chance to taste the Olympic fever that has been slowly building in the host city over recent weeks, but more importantly, taunt Uruguay’s Louis Suarez for the entire 90 minutes.

Of course they did. The much-publicised spat between Liverpool and Manchester United in the season just gone, which centred on Suarez and what could at best be reflected on as a “cultural” issue, meant the star striker was never going to be a welcome visitor.

I don’t think he cared. Suarez, arguably the best player in the entire competition, laid on two goals for the South Americans, who won despite the considerable efforts of their un-fancied Middle-eastern opposition, led Ismaeil Matar.

The UAE players, each of whom earn their living in leagues far less prestigious than the English Premiership, clearly enjoyed their time on the grass of one of Europe’s marquee sporting citadels, the team’s moment capped by a goal from Matar, brilliantly followed by a chant of “UAE, UAE” by the 72,000 crowd. I’ll wager it was a first for an English football ground.

If Suarez was cast as the evening’s pantomime villain, the role of the prince was bestowed on Ryan Giggs, the Captain of Team GB, whose appearance in the evening’s second game made him the oldest Olympian ever to have played in the football competition.

giggs

38-year-old Giggs became the oldest player to take part in the football tournament

The United winger, already the most capped footballer in Premiership history, may be running on 38-year-old legs, but he can still play a bit, even against a robust Senegalese side that boasted players from clubs as far spread as Metz, Tel-Aviv, Osasuna and Wigan.

The appearance of the Giggs was also a stark reminder of that other United veteran, David Beckham, whose omission from the squad displayed a startling lack of romance on the part of GB coach Stuart Pearce. Wouldn’t it have been something to see Giggs and Becks grace the Old Trafford turf once last time together?

But Pearce doesn’t do sentiment, and the LA Galaxy player will have to make do with his walk-on role in Friday’s opening ceremony.

As it transpired, it was left to Giggs’ Welsh compatriot Craig Bellamy to get the GB campaign up and running, opening the scoring after 20 minutes with a six-yard poke.

Despite the goal, Britain’s rag-tag assortment of players never looked comfortable, particularly as Senegal were clearly happy to rough-up the home team with a string of heavyweight challenges. Giggs had been complaining to the referee long before Bellamy was scythed down on 70 minutes leading to some pushing and shoving between Swansea’s Neil Taylor and Papa Gueye.

It wasn’t the prettiest game, but there was plenty of passion on show - a bit too much at times.

Still, when Moussa Konate scored for Senegal with eight minutes to go it was a much-deserved equaliser.

Pearce’s team is unlikely to win gold at the Games with far better teams than Senegal taking part in the competition, but, judging by Old Trafford, for as long as they are in the tournament Team GB should receive plenty of support.

Outside the ground security was visible if not stifling - a similar presence to any standard match day, despite the far friendlier atmosphere apparent for the Olympic showpiece.

team gb

Craig Bellamy scores for Team GB

In town too, official helpers were on hand at the train station, with coaches laid on to ferry Olympic tourists to and from the venue.

The only thing not on show was the apparent cynicism that we are all supposed to be feeling towards the Games. There were rumblings inside the ground when the fast food vendors ran out of stock half way through the evening, but if a lack of burgers is the only major complaint then I doubt Seb Coe will be losing any sleep.

There's still a long way to go, but a few more evenings like this, Mr Romney, and the London Olympics will “turn out” just fine…

Around the Web

BBC Sport - London 2012: Senegal confident of upsetting Team GB

We will make the nation proud: Team GB prepare for Senegal ...

Team GB v Senegal live Olympics | Mail Online

Team GB v Senegal - Olympics LIVE | Mail Online

London Olympics 2012: Stuart Pearce's Team GB prepare for Senegal despite ...

London 2012 Olympics: Stuart Pearce must find a way to plug the yawning gap ...