by Richard Brook

Team GB secured the top spot in Group A thanks to a close range effort from Daniel Sturridge right on the stroke of half-time. It was not a game for the purist, a scrappy affair littered with half-chances and long range efforts, as both teams felt the weight of the pressure of Group A qualification. Both sets of players have a lot of Olympic history to live up to. This tournament represents Uruguay’s first foray into Olympic football since their back to back gold medals in 1924 and 1928. For Team GB, they are seeking to emulate the British winners of London 1908. Thanks to GB’s workman like display it will be they who pursue their Olympic dream into the knock-out rounds.

The teams went into this evenings fixture knowing that Team GB needed only a draw to reach the quarter-finals and that a win could possibly see them top Group A, but that Uruguay had to secure victory to reach the knock-out stage of the competition, at the expense of the hosts. The opening exchanges were somewhat scrappy, with both teams struggling to settle into a real rhythm, with opportunities to attack created and squandered by the nerves of the occasion.

Craig Bellamy looked lively early on for Team GB, whipping in a number of right-wing crosses. The sides matched each other blow for blow and Bellamy was the architect of the first half-chance of the game, when one such cross found it way to Scott Sinclair at the back post. The Swansea man’s header lacked pace and direction, to either trouble the goalkeeper or find a colleague.

Shortly afterwards Tabare Viudez found the ball at his feet, eight yards out, after good work from Matias Aguirregaray, but an excellent sliding intervention from Neil Taylor, put him under sufficient pressure to repel the threat.

The parity of the half-chances made it inescapable, that the first goal would be an enormous factor in dictating the pattern of this game. It was even clearer that neither team wanted to concede it. The opener could easily have come as the second of pair of Team GB corners led to a scramble deep in the box, but Uruguay cleared their lines.

Team GB were noticeably assured in possession, despite the Uruguayans’ willingness to press the ball all over the park. This willingness, and the directness of their passing, might have been expected given that the pressure was on Uruguay to win the match. Team GB showed a definite improvement in terms of keeping possession under pressure, to frustrate Uruguay.

At the mid-way point in the first half Viudez hit a free-kick from deep on the left flank, that found Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates’ head in the penalty area. Team GB were able to count themselves very fortunate that, Coates was unable to keep his header down. Moments later Uruguay broke well, and found themselves four against four but Gaston Ramirez opted to shoot, and again the effort flew over the top, close enough though to worry Jack Butland.

Back came Team GB though, and Aaron Ramsey found himself in space on the right edge of the box. Ramsey’s low, driven cross could easily have found its way into the net, with the merest of touches in the crowded penalty area. As it was the ball crossed the by-line for a goal-kick.

Just as the game seemed destined to head into the interval a turgid stalemate, Team GB took the lead that their dominance of possession just about deserved. Sinclair received the ball on the left wing from Allen, who continued his run deep into the box, and took the return ball. Allen checked back inside and rolled a pass across the six-yard box, evading the dive of Martin Campana, to Sturridge who could not miss.

Early in the second half Team GB could have doubled their lead. Bellamy sprinted down the right once more and his far post ball was met by Sinclair. The header back across goal was incredibly touched on to the post from a yard by Sturridge. To the relief of Sturridge, Sinclair had already been flagged off-side.

Suarez spurned a glorious opportunity to equalise for Uruguay. He chased a direct ball to the by line, jinked past Steven Caulker, and then Richards, before Butland came flying from his line to half smother a ball, presenting a Suarez with a second bite of the cherry before one of a flurry of recovering GB defenders intervened.

Butland came to GB’s rescue midway through the second half, as Suarez ran to the edge of the box and fired a low drive towards the bottom left hand corner of Butland’s goal. The keeper was down quickly, at full stretch, to palm the ball into the path of Edinson Cavani, who received the ball at too acute an angle to hit anything but side-netting.

A lively ten minute spell of pressure culminated in a penalty shout by Suarez who fell backwards trying to collect a knock down from Ramirez. As he fell Suarez handled the ball and was booked, much to his frustration.

Sturridge could have wrapped it all up in the last few minutes. He ran strongly, and directly to the edge of the box and struck a fine low shot but Campana did well to get down low and turn it away.

Uruguay nearly had the last laugh as, in the final minute of injury time, Ramirez rattled the bar. Even that was not the last action of the game, as a goal bound Suarez free-kick was not only saved, but held by Butland, under pressure. In the end though, it was too little too late, for Uruguay as, thanks to a draw between Senegal and UAE, Team GB ran out Group A winners.