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Final qualifier whets appetite for Olympic tournament

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Paul Fletcher | 07:38 UK time, Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The spontaneous joy of the Senegal players dancing on the pitch in front of their small but passionate contingent of fans spoke volumes about what it meant to them to be part of the Olympic football tournament.

You could add to that the sight of a bling-heavy El-Hadji Diouf trying to blag his way into the Senegal dressing room by explaining to a steward that he is captain of the national team (he retired from international football in 2009) and a Premier League player (Doncaster were recently relegated to League One).

Then there were the supporters of the victorious African team waiting patiently outside in the cold for their triumphant heroes to emerge from their dressing room, enthusiastically surrounding Senegal-born Patrick Vieira when he appeared nearby.

If you wanted further evidence of the passion for Olympic football you could do worse than hear the noise created by the Oman supporters before Senegal's early goal, or the sight of Wigan's Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, proudly wearing his national team's scarf and desperate for them to qualify so he could be part of the Olympics.

Senegal qualified for the Olympic football tournament after a 2-0 win over Oman. Photo: Getty

On one level, Monday evening's play-off match at the City of Coventry Stadium was a straightforward contest for the 16th and final place in the men's Olympic football tournament.

Senegal, with their number six up front and number nine in the centre of defence, were deserved winners. They scored in the second minute and again right at the end to reach the Olympic football tournament for the first time and become the fourth African team after Gabon, Morocco and Egypt to book their place at this summer's Games.

But as the one test event for this summer's tournament, it was also a chance to gauge what we can expect when the action begins.

There has been a lot of negative publicity around the football tournament, specifically with the prolonged wrangling over the participation of a combined Team GB.

The football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been vocal in their opposition of a combined side, fearing it will compromise their individual status within world governing body Fifa.

Then there are the sluggish ticket sales. Before kick-off on Monday the organising committee's head of sport competition David Luckes chose to focus on the one million that have been snapped up, but there are 1.5 million that remain unsold.

Luckes is hopeful that Tuesday's group-stage draw will lead to a sudden upsurge in demand, but he does not yet know when the next period of resales will start.

Not long before kick-off on Monday the sparse crowd must have been a worrying sight to everyone with concerns about ticket sales. The Mexican waves did not go very far before foundering in the vast oceans of empty seats.

But trying to sell a football match between Senegal and Oman on Monday evening to a public whose local team - Coventry City - have just been relegated from the Championship was never going to be easy. Throw in the chilly, overcast conditions and I thought the crowd of 11,611 was pretty decent.

They also made a fair old noise too, with the organisers doing all they could to foster a sense of competition. Flags of both teams were handed out before kick-off and people were asked to tweet different hashtags to determine which of Senegal and Oman had the most support from the watching fans.

The city of Coventry has high hopes that it will be a big winner out of the Olympics. Only Wembley has sold more tickets for the Games than what is arguably the least glamorous or prestigious host venue for the football tournament (the others are London, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff and Glasgow).

As far back as 2006 a collection of key bodies, educational establishments, businesses and trusts formed a partnership to try to get the most out of the Olympics for the area and appointed a 2012 co-ordinator, one of the first in the country.

When Villa Park pulled out as a host venue for the region in 2009 and Coventry eventually took its place, the possibilities moved up another level.

"The football is the jewel in the crown for Coventry," said Tom Clift, the 2012 operations manager for Coventry.

"It is a huge honour and a great opportunity; it puts us on the map nationally and internationally."

Coventry will host eight match days in the men's and women's tournaments, more than any other venue. The Olympic torches are being manufactured at a company close to the football ground and the city has instigated a series of cultural and sporting projects.

"Coventry has arguably got one of the largest Olympic engagement projects of anyone outside London," added Clift. "The city has had a tough time in the last half century and this is putting some pride back in."

Clift is hopeful that there will be a full house of 32,500 for some of the matches staged in Coventry. Prior to Monday's game the Senegal ambassador had been invited to look at the facilities and Clift would be pleased if, having worked hard to make both of Monday's teams feel welcome, the African side were drawn to play at Coventry again.

Senegal assistant coach Aliou Cisse, a former Birmingham City and Portsmouth midfielder, insisted after his team's 2-0 victory that he did not have any preference who his team were drawn against in the tournament.

He was also coy about the possibility of Newcastle duo Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba participating in the Olympics, stating only that although it was "important to have the best players possible" those who finally secured qualification on Monday deserved their chance because they had battled for months and months.

Senegal's victorious 18-man squad play in seven different countries, with four of the five home-based players hailing from the Diambars club co-founded by Vieira.

But it was clear from listening to the intelligent and dignified Cisse that whoever is eventually selected will understand the significance of playing for Senegal in the Olympics.

"It is an honour to represent our country and our continent," he said.

If everyone who participates feels the same way it should be a tournament to remember.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    1st!!!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 3.

    The stance by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FA's is nothing short of childish and pathetic. FIFA has clearly stated on several occasions that they would never force the Home Nations to form a GB team for international competitions. It is simply the fact that they don't want to play with the English.

  • Comment number 4.

    Alot of peoples opinions would change if team GB got to the final

  • Comment number 5.

    People in the UK don't seem to understand just how important Olympic football always is as a dress rehearsal for the next World Cup. Those eight under-23s will all be 24-25 when the World Cup comes around, and when you then add three older players you have a bona fide World Cup preview. The 1996 Brazil, for example, featured Roberto Carlos, Juninho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Bebeto. This time around the teams from Uruguay and Brazil in particular are virtually identical to the teams they will take to the World Cup.

  • Comment number 6.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 7.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 8.

    #3
    There is no shortage of fans in England who regularly state that that they don't trust anything coming from FIFA...but suddenly on this issue FIFA are to be trusted.

    The SFA was one of the few associations to back the England WC bid and was the ONLY association to support the English FA stance during the re-election of Blatter. No one else supported you.

    Far from respecting others right to take a different view on Team GB, you choose to have a pop at the Celtic associations on the basis of no credible evidence whatsoever..other than some petty prejudices of your own.

    Ticket sales for the games at Hampden are shockingly low :) :)

  • Comment number 9.

    #6 & 7 ChuubyPandas

    I'd like England to take part in a Home Nations tournament. I think most of the fans would. But it's the suits at the FA who made the decision. With a bit of luck the "one-off" event in 2013 will show them how good it could be.

  • Comment number 10.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 11.

    Just watched the draw, now I know which games I'm seeing at Newcastle. Mexico v South Korea and Gabon v Switzerland on the Thursday; Spain v Honduras and Japan v Morocco on the Sunday. Hernández, Shaqiri, Xhaka, Mata, Muniain, Alcântara, Kagawa, Belhanda. Plenty of quality there.

  • Comment number 12.

    Now then - many thanks for your thoughts so far. I must say, I'm starting to wonder whether we will ever move away from the controversy surrounding Team GB. The very hottest of hot potatoes.

    As for Senegal - congratulations to them. They showed great pride, desire and strength last night and will now take on Team GB at an Old Trafford that is likely to be packed out on 26 July. Rich reward for the efforts of their players and a match that is sure to be a great experience for them.

    I wonder if the draw will have any impact on the willingness/determination of the likes of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba to play?

  • Comment number 13.

    cant wait to see the olympic football in the summer. got tickets to see team gb play and have found i also have tickets to see senegal play against uruguay which should be interesting

  • Comment number 14.

    Stuart Pearce has got a very difficult job of cobbling together a squad from four football nations, which has to have a politically correct mix of players from all countries. They will never have played together before . The others are unknown quantities in that we do not know the strength of the squads they will send. If G B team fails badly it will reflect on his management, perhaps unfairly.

    After three weeks of Euro football the public are likely to be satiated until next season which starts August 6th, five days before the Olympic final. NB will our clubs be depleted of their Olympic players?

  • Comment number 15.

    #8 rob04

    A fair point on the SFA backing the FA re: Blatter election, I had forgotten that. Tone of my first comment was probably wrong, but I still think the other Home Nations respective FA's have overreacted to what could be a great team. For example, there was an article I read where the Welsh FA said something along the lines of Gareth Bale "risked his reputation in the eyes of all Welsh football fans should he decide to take part in it". Really???

  • Comment number 16.

    Having been at last nights game it was fairly obvious from the start who the winners were going to be, Senegal were seemingly 6 inches taller per man, a couple of stones heavier and quicker over any distance.
    The quality of play shouldn't make any of the other teams fearful of what to expect though, the game was fairly exciting, but low on skill, even the weakest PL side would run rings around both of the teams on show.
    The 11 and a half thousand who turned up isn't much of an indication about how many actually wanted to watch the game either, as about a third of those were school kids given tickets at prices comparable to penny chews, Wigan and Ali Al Habsi (with the help of the Omani FA) gave free travel and entry to a few coach loads of season ticket holders and from what I heard around me, there were many similar 'offers' too.

    None of that should take away from the genuine excitement expressed by many of those who were there and just how much many people are looking forward to the Olympics as a whole and the football tournament in particular.

  • Comment number 17.

    Having spent time in the Middles East where football is absolutely immense but with little international exploits the opportunity to represent your country on agolbal stage is taken with huge pride and passion, one that is lacking more and more in our 'serious' competitions. This is not an 'England' problem. This is modern day football where money overrules everything else. Even in South America, I would wonder the seriousness they would take the olympics if it wasnt for the opportunity to sign for a european club.

  • Comment number 18.

    Fair enough Alex but I don't even think there was an over-reaction by the Celtic FA's. They were asked, they took their own advice from their reps within FIFA and were told not to touch Team GB with a bargepole because even their own FIFA insiders don't trust FIFA. And to be fair on the English FA, they haven't said anything disrespectful at all about the views of the other home nations: in other words, unlike some in the London media rent-a-quote brigade and in the British Government, they fully accept that others have different views on this one.

  • Comment number 19.

    As far as I'm concerned, the opinions and behaviour of the Celtic nations in regard to the Olympics and Team GB are a nonsense. They've been re-assured time and time again that it won't threaten their independent status in regular international football. If FIFA wanted to do that, then the Scottish and Irish leagues would need to be swallowed up into the English system. It would affect domestic club football too, on a huge administrative scale. It is never going to happen.

    Let's be honest and just call the Celt nations hostility for what it is, an antagonism toward England and attitudes that are rooted in the 19th/20th century, a long gone era.

    For some reason a united Great Britain mens team in football has political significance, when no one bats an eyelid about the British Lions Rugby team.

    With regard to the Home Nations tournament, that is another anachronism that should never be revived. Why, after a long season, would club managers allow their top players, for example: Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard etc. to play in high tempo derbies against Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? There is nothing to gain from these matches for the English, England are already far superior to them in the rankings, they don't play a different style that helps England prepare for international competition. They are needle matches with potential for trouble both on and off the pitch. The cost of policing them needs to be taken into account. The Home Nations was cancelled because of hooliganism and when you see the xenophobic attitudes of many Celts and the reaction they are likely to provoke, surely anyone can see the tournament has been cancelled with good reason.

    The Great Britain football team is meant to represent a unifying idea in relation to sport (not politics) and sadly but not surprisingly some have the view that division, historic political conflict and petty tribalism is more important.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19
    You should write to the SFA. I'm sure you know no more about the inside working of FIFA than them :)

    Hubris!

  • Comment number 21.

    Let's be honest and just call the Celt nations hostility for what it is, an antagonism toward England and attitudes that are rooted in the 19th/20th century, a long gone era.
    ------
    And their support for your WC bid, what should we call that?

  • Comment number 22.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 23.

    I have to be honest, I am a lot more interested in who is likely to start in the tournament, who we can expect to impress, who is likely to win.

    The football is what I am interested in right now, not so much the arguments about whether we should have a Team GB.

  • Comment number 24.

    4. At 11:09 24th Apr 2012, crippsy14 wrote:
    Alot of peoples opinions would change if team GB got to the final

    Some would, after all most of the population are idiots. The fact is that Olympic football is a complete joke - I doubt most of the population could name the previous winners.
    On the other hand it does fit perfectly with the modern olympic ideal. Particularly that Beckham will play, despite being in semi-retirement, on the grounds that it will be could for business. Whether he is still good enough to be in the squad is of no consequence, Britain will be able to flog plenty of replica shirts with Beckham's name on it, so that he is a shoe-in for the squad. Giggs will no doubt be selected for the same reason, plus token Scottish and Irish players in an attempt to flog a few shirts elsewhere.

  • Comment number 25.

    As A Newcastle fan I would be very disappointed to see both Papiss and Demba play in the Olympics as it will jeopardise our chances of winning any potential Europa/Champions League qualification matches, but also If the players want to play then nobody should be allowed to deny them the opportunity to represent their nation and win an Olympic medal which is a huge honour no matter what sport you participate in. As for the tournament itself I can see Uruguay winning the tournament depending on who the over 23 players are, Godin, Suarez, Cavani and Forlan spring to mind straight away and I honestly can't see team GB getting past the group stages, would like to see a more permanent under 23's team established though, hopefully the SFA and FAW can put their pride to one side as Olympic tournaments have inspired some of the best teams and players in history.

  • Comment number 26.

    Right, my go....

    Last winners were Argentina (as they were the Olympics before as well if memory serves me correctly - but I was a student then so everything is hazy).

    Does nobody else consider this six of one and half a dozen of the other? Yes, the English FA have a superiority complex, but it's also matched by the chip on the shoulders of the other home nation FA's.

    Can't we all just enjoy a few games of football and get over it?

  • Comment number 27.

    I went to this match, it was full of school kids on free tickets who were aimlessly screaming, hence the noise. The football was poor and the Coventry Council 'helpers' were useless. One sent us to the totally opposite entrance to where we should've been. I suspect there will be more free tickets handed out to schools when the event begins.

  • Comment number 28.

    Oddly seems to be only Newcastle fans vaguely positive about the tournament rather than wingeing about the GB situation. Found out yesterday I've got tickets for Spain v Honduras and Japan v Morocco, which aside from the disappointment of not getting Senegal looks fantastic. I'll be particularly interested to see which over 23's Spain send with the Euros at the same time, maybe they'll give us Xisco and Luque?

    Yes, its an U23 competition in effect, and sits in the shadow (from a European perspective) of Euro 2012, but for £20 to watch two games of football I'd say its worth watching as a football fan. Who won it last time? Argentina, just like the time before. Who played in those teams? Messi, Aguero, Di Maria, Tevez, Mascherano (both times), Coloccini, Heinze. This time you've got Spain and Switzerland, Brazil and Uruguay, and god knows who else coming from the youth teams of Japan etc.

    Looking forward to it, and definitely considering tickets for the GB v Brazil warmup at Middlesbrough too.

  • Comment number 29.

    If there are still wranglings about selection from the individual UK nations, England should make the Olympics our priority this summer by picking the best U23s we can, regardless of whether they'd make the Euro squad, add in Rooney because he's integral to Englands next couple of tournamnets and as he will miss the first 2 matches of the Euros anyway.
    Then we can get a group who should be pretty much Englands first choice team from the next Euros playing together gaining experience as a team in a major championship, in the same way many other nations view underage tournaments, instead of how we seem to view them, as it appears we never take them too seriously.
    If however, the individual FAs can put their differences aside, then we should pick the best UK squad we can, regardless of whether this means there will only be a few non English players, there is simply no point in picking the squad based on quotas from each country ie. the same amount of players from England, Scotland, Wales and N.I.

  • Comment number 30.

    I suspect this whole GB/Olympic football hype will end up falling flat.

    If England fail at the Euros (which is highly likely) most English fans will want to forget about football (especially international football) for the remainder of the summer. Add to that the fact that most Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish fans seem to be, at best uninterested, and at worst irritated by it all.

    Those who genuinely enjoy the Olympics will also end up irritated by the inevitable fact that the British media will, in typically annoying fashion, take the spotlight away from those who have trained years for London 2012 and give it to footballers.

  • Comment number 31.

    To be honest, Paul, I'd love to comment on who should be picked for a GB olympic team, but given the uncertainty over whether the best team can even be fielded (Bale is probably the best player in GB at the moment, but will he play?) I'm not sure there's any point. If players have to be picked according to where they're from rather than on merit, I'm not sure I could even name the Northern Irish players who should make the squad.

    Maybe you could post a team and we could start from there?

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi Paul - I understand that you don't want to concentrate on the "political" side of the Team GB argument and you are entitled to your point of view but I'm afraid that this is the attitude that helps to infuriate the Scots and others. I realise that you might not be English but it is the condescending and arrogant attitudes of the English media and English FA that are so annoying. Plenty of suggestions were put forward in order to try and avoid the situation we have found ourselves in but none of them suited the priorities of the Olympic Committee or the English FA. I love my football but I have no interest whatsoever in a football competition that Great Britain have chosen to ignore for decades but have suddenly decided is an important competition this summer. Call me a cynic but is it just a coincidence that this Olympics is in London and the next one is in Brazil and suddenly the FA think Olympic Football is a good idea? This is probably the first time in my life that I have actually agreed with a decision made by the SFA.

  • Comment number 33.

    in my opinion this just got to a new level of weirdness, the organization of the game was just awful, it was the worst experience i ever had at a football game, i think fifa should pay more attention to the organization of the game...

    [Unsuitable URL removed by Moderator]

 

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