Team Great Britain endured a controversial run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The Irish and Scottish Football Associations discouraged their footballers from participating in the Games for fear that their future footballing identity may be compromised.
This forced Olympic coach Stuart Pearce to field a selection comprised exclusively of players from England and Wales. For one Welshman in particular, this has been a very good thing.
Craig Bellamy has channeled his best Juan Ponce de Leon, tapping into the fountain of youth. He has turned in a series of stirring performances in leading Team GB to the top of their group and a relatively comfortable progression into the Olympic quarterfinals.
Against Uruguay on Wednesday, Bellamy slipped a 28th-minute pass into the area for Aaron Ramsey, who then unleashed a low shot toward the bottom-left corner, where it was almost poked home by Swansea’s Scott Sinclair.
In the 47th minute, Bellamy received a brilliant first-time pass from another Swansea player, Neil Taylor, down the right flank. Taking the ball to the end line, he then crossed to the far post, where Sinclair headed it back across goal for Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge managed to somehow hit the post from two yards out, but he was ruled to be marginally offside when he headed back across goal.
The play, however, was typical Bellamy. Beguiling defenders with his pace, even at the relative advanced age of 33.
Against the United Arab Emirates in the second group game, Bellamy crossed the ball for fellow senior citizen Ryan Giggs to get his first-ever international goal.
Later in the match, Bellamy again sent another cross into the area, where it was bundled in by Sinclair.
All of this on the heels of his historics against Senegal a week ago. In a switch of roles, it was Giggs who played the part of provider, swinging a free kick deep toward a cluster of bodies at the far post.
The ball deflected back across goal to Bellamy, who calmly knocked the shot into the turf and past the hapless goalkeeper for Great Britain's first Olympic goal since 1960.
Acknowledging his limitations, Bellamy offered an explanation of his approach to the Olympic Games to the gathered British press (via The Guardian):
I'm 33, you guys have seen me for a number of years now. Yeah, I can make mistakes but when I do play for your team I do work as hard as I can for your team and hopefully I got recognition for that. With the limited ability I have, I do have to make up for it with work ethic. I'm here because I want to be here and do as well as I can.
There are a number of players who can challenge for the title of best British player at the Olympic Games thus far, including the aforementioned Aaron Ramsey, who has been at the center of several slick passing movements in midfield.
Ryan Giggs, too, has been a godsend. His experience and leadership has helped calm and guide a young Team GB. He has shown that he’s not afraid to lead by example as his goal and assist thus far demonstrates.
Scott Sinclair has looked dangerous down the left wing, a perfect complement to Bellamy’s right-wing play.
Daniel Sturridge scored the third goal against the UAE and the game-winner versus Uruguay to go with his missed sitter from the same game that would not have counted.
Jack Butland has demonstrated that together with Joe Hart as England's top-choice goalkeeper, the country should be set at the position for years to come.
None of them have been as consistently effective as has Bellamy, however, who gives everything for the 75 or so minutes that he’s out on the pitch. He has shown the ability to consistently get past his marker to cross the ball into threatening areas.
Perhaps it’s the effect of wearing the captain’s armband, but these Games have shown us an introspective Craig Bellamy.
He seems appreciative of the historic gravity of the occasion: a unified Team GB, playing on home soil and coming in the twilight of his professional career. It all conspires to give him what seems to be added purpose.
His goal and two assists means that he has been at the center of more than half of all Britain’s goals thus far at the Olympics, but the true measure of his contribution cannot be found in the stat sheet.
Look instead at the puckish joy with which he has approached this opportunity and at the focused determination of a man given a unique opportunity to rewrite the closing chapter to what has been a wonderfully impish and nomadic career.