by Richard Brook
Team GB passed their test with flying colours at Wembley tonight, running out 3-1 winners in their must win clash with UAE. Goals from Ryan Giggs, Scott Sinclair and a superb lofted finish from Daniel Sturridge were enough to see-off the 2009 Under-20 World Cup quarter-finalists. It is hard to say whether Uruguay’s defeat by Senegal will aid the hosts, as the much-fancied Uruguayan side will know that they have to beat the hosts at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday. On the other hand Team GB will qualify, providing they can avoid defeat in Cardiff.
It could have been very different as once again Team GB let a one goal lead slip, but the all round performance was much improved. GB held the ball, better and did not sit back when holding their slender lead. The major criticism that could be levelled at the players would be the wasteful nature of their finishing. Even this marks an improvement given that the last two performances were notable for a lack of penetration, and of chances created. Tonight the number of chances dictate that the margin could have been far greater.
The first chance came in the first minute when Marvin Sordell rolled the ball across the six-yard box towards Aaron Ramsey, who provided more attacking impetus when brought on against Senegal. Ramsey was unfortunately unable to connect.
UAE started to come back into the game and Rashed Eisa might have had a penalty for a challenge by Joe Allen at the by-line, but in fairness the UAE did not really appeal for the spot kick. Eisa then picked up a good ball from Omar Abdulrahman, in space on the edge of the box. He hit his shot sweetly, but it was met by a firm header from Micah Richards in the Team GB defence.
The deadlock was broken by Team GB captain Ryan Giggs on the quarter of an hour mark. A neat ball from the edge of the penalty area, by Tom Cleverley found Bellamy in space on left flank. Bellamy deftly hit an in swinging, right footed cross to the far post, where Giggs was on hand to plant a firm header beyond Ali Khaseif in between the sticks for UAE.
Ahmed Khalil threatened the Team GB goal just short of the half hour mark. He ran with ball deep and wide into the box and hit a cross-cum-shot across the face of the goal but found himself unsupported, with no one on hand to apply a touch that would surely have beaten Jack Butland. Minutes later Khamis Esmaeel hit a confident shot from range, but Butland saw it over and withdrew his hand to ensure the game restarted with a goal kick.
Team GB replied in kind as Sordell turned neatly inside, then out, on the edge of the penalty area and struck a stinging drive that Khaseif did well to get down to and turn behind for a corner. The attacking thrust continued and Cleverly found Bellamy with a ball not dissimilar to the pass that led to the opening goal. Bellamy chose to shoot tamely at Khaseif rather than look for Giggs who was better placed.
Team GB must have felt aggrieved to go into half-time only one goal to the good as Aaron Ramsey took a quick free quick, through a sleeping UAE defence, following a foul on Richards on the right wing. The ball reached Cleverley but Khaseif was alert to the threat and threw himself at the Manchester United midfielder’s feet to force the ball out for a corner. UAE broke but Khalil was unable to find Ismaeil Matar in acres of space. The next GB attack saw Cleverley desperately unlucky once again as Bellamy’s neat ball inside saw him strike a thumping shot against both posts, of the UAE goal.
Second-half substitute, Daniel Sturridge did well to get into the box and get a low shot away, but Khaseif spread himself very well and got a firm right leg block on the attempt to deflect the ball to safety. In the aftermath of this effort, Team GB switched off at the back for a second and Khalil was away. His connection with the ball was true, and beat Butland, who was relieved to see the ball ricochet off the outside of his left-hand post.
The warning went unheeded as UAE equalised on the hour. Eisa ran strongly and directly into the penalty area and finished with a hard low shot past the right hand of the advancing Butland. The goal was very much against the run of play to that point.
The equaliser marked a complete turn in the tide of the game. UAE’s new found dominance led to a number of half chances to take the lead culminated in an effort by Khalil that drew a smart close range save from Butland.
After 72 minutes Scott Sinclair restored Team GB’s lead with his first touch. A minute earlier Sinclair replaced a tiring Giggs, and Bellamy moved to the right side. It was Bellamy’s run and cross, spilled Khaseif under pressure, that was neatly converted by Sinclair. GB coach Stuart Pearce must take great credit for identifying the need for the substitution and acting on it.
Sturridge put the hosts 3-1 up three minutes later as he latched on to a sublime through ball from Cleverly, broke through the defence and lofted an exquisite chip over the keeper, who had lacked any real commitment in abandoning his goal-line. It was fitting end, to a fine performance when Team GB delivered exactly what was required, and put Group A qualification firmly in their own hands.