Great Britain vs. Uruguay: 6 Things We Learned About GB's Gold-Medal Hopes
Stuart Pearce's Team GB are through to the quarterfinals of the men's Olympic football tournament after beating Uruguay 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium to finish atop Group A.
Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge got the goal in Cardiff, and it means Great Britain will be back at the Millennium on Saturday to take on South Korea for a place in the last four and a shot at the medals.
Pearce made the bold decision of leaving GB captain Ryan Giggs on the bench against Uruguay, choosing instead to start with Swansea's Scott Sinclair. Pearce also opted to bring Micah Richards inside to play in central defense against the Uruguay strikeforce of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Here are six things we learned from GB's victory.
1. Butland Is Ready for the Big Time
Jack Butland has grabbed his Olympic chance with, quite literally, both hands. The Birmingham City goalkeeper was in commanding form against Uruguay and made a couple of sharp saves along the way.
He might be 19 years old and have just 24 professional matches to call on in terms of experience, but Butland is clearly a man who thrives under pressure.
In the knockout stages his contribution could well prove the difference between going through and going out.
2. Team GB Are Still Vulnerable Defensively
GB were deserving winners against Uruguay, but all their hard work could easily have been undone by a couple of lapses in concentration in defense.
To stand any chance against Brazil—should the two teams meet in the semifinals—GB can't afford to switch off for a second. They certainly can't afford to be as generous with space as they were with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Pearce's men can count themselves fortunate to have only conceded two goals in three games so far.
3. Midfield Getting Stronger by the Game
GB enjoyed 63 percent of the possession against Uruguay, for which the midfield quartet of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Tom Cleverley and Craig Bellamy deserve the lion's share of credit.
Arsenal's Ramsey is getting back to his best. Cleverley is beginning to look like the player we saw at the very start of last season for Manchester United. And Swansea's Allen is the model of calm effectiveness and doing everything that's asked of him.
As for Bellamy, he's been arguably one of the players of the tournament. He's certainly been GB's best player.
It's in midfield that GB are really starting to come together and look like a team.
4. Giggs Still Vital to GB Hopes
Scott Sinclair had a couple of good moments against Uruguay, but he drifted in and out of the game and failed to exert the kind of influence Pearce would have hoped for.
Giggs should replace him against Korea. I'd perhaps even favor playing the veteran United man in a left-sided role to allow Cleverley, Ramsey and Allen to stay were they were against Uruguay.
Giggs might lack Sinclair's pace, but on a sticky pitch in Cardiff, GB will be better served with another link man who can add to their control.
5. Bellamy Is on a Mission
Liverpool fans must be drooling with excitement watching the form of Craig Bellamy for Team GB.
The 33-year-old terrorized down the right flank against Uruguay, and he brought a threat virtually every time he took possession in an advanced position.
For all the concerns about how his fitness would hold up, Bellamy has looked like one of the sharpest players in the tournament and appears to have his eyes fixed firmly on the prize.
For GB to stand any chance of taking a medal, Bellamy has to maintain his form and inspire others around him to elevate to his level.
The Welshman knows this is likely his swan song. Pity the man who tries to get in the way of him achieving what he's set out to.
6. GB Are Fully Behind Their Team
There was a lot of cynicism around the concept of a GB team in the buildup to the Olympics.
Some said it was a contrived idea at odds with the footballing identities of the nations invited to take part. Scotland and Northern Ireland flatly refused to deliver any players. Wales didn't want their players involved either, but they ultimately backed down.
Would Team GB have happened if London weren't hosting the Games? Almost certainly not. Will there be a Team GB at the Brazil Olympics in 2016? Probably not.
But that hasn't stopped millions of Britons from getting fully behind the team and stadiums being jam-packed for all of their games.
Britain is in the grips of Olympic fever, and the time is long past for conjecture. GB are into the quarterfinals, and it feels like everybody is behind them.