Driven by a trio of Welshmen and with an Englishman scoring its only goal, Britain's first Olympic football team since 1960 was roared to victory on Wednesday over Uruguay in Cardiff. The support of the 70,000 fans in the Welsh capital put paid to fears that the team might get a hostile reception or that the national anthem, which Britain and England share, might be booed by sections of the crowd. Instead, shouts of "Team GB, Team GB," rang out.
"If you wind the clock back three or four weeks, people were telling me there would be a negative response in Cardiff, but we haven't seen that," said coach Stuart Pearce. "It's been fantastic here, around the hotel and the city. We are getting stronger and stronger." Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge scored the goal on the stroke of halftime, sliding in behind the defense to meet a ball by Welshmen Joe Allen. Britain had to survive a second-half Uruguayan fightback, with keeper Jack Butland twice saving well.
The result meant Uruguay, one of the pretournament favorites, was eliminated from the competition. Like the British women's team, the men topped their qualifying group. It now plays South Korea in Saturday's quarterfinals and will not have to travel, a bonus in a tournament where squads are limited to 18 men and the schedule is compressed compared to other international football events.
The victory came on the day that Britain won its first two Olympic gold medals, triggering a rush of national pride. "We're delighted to be playing a small part in this," Pearce said. Pearce, a former England defender, rested 38-year-old captain Ryan Giggs, a Welsh international and Manchester United veteran, for the match. Craig Bellamy, a Cardiff native, wore the armband instead and quickly stamped Britain's authority on the game.
Bellamy was taken off on 77 minutes to a massive roar from the crowd. The goal capped 15 minutes of British pressure. Scott Sinclair beat a defender on the left wing and ran toward goal, passed to Allen who danced around another Uruguayan before threading the ball into the box, where Sturridge slid in to prod the ball in.
"We are over the moon that we won," midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. "It's good we get to stay in Cardiff, especially as I'm Welsh." Luis Suarez, who after a turbulent season with Liverpool was booed throughout, came close to equalizing in the 53rd, but Butland twice denied him at close range before the ball was cleared.
Butland again saved well from Suarez just past the hour mark, diving to his left after the Uruguayan striker broke free. "This is the end of the road," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. "The team worked really hard, created chances. Uruguay in the second half was the better team. The team fought until the end. The players gave their all."
Britain has not fielded a men's soccer team in the Olympics since 1960 because of opposition from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish football associations, which a unified team might jeopardize their place in global football. The Welsh FA had opposed the inclusion of Welsh players in the team. Speaking ahead of the match, Bellamy and Pearce said they believed the team would not play in Brazil in 2016, citing those sensitivities.
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