After 52 years away from Olympic competition, Thursday evening marked a historic night for Great Britain when the nation saw their footballers return to the pitch at the Summer Games.
In a hotly contested match against Senegal that ultimately ended with both parties sharing the spoils, it was Craig Bellamy that snatched the goods for the hosts and subsequently came out looking rosiest for Great Britain.
It’s ironic that despite the massive English contingent amongst Team GB, it turned out to be a Welshman that was arguably the best player on the pitch that night, although that’s one of the more beautiful aspects of this encompassing and diverse squad.
This sense of togetherness was as evident when Bellamy scored as when he trudged off the pitch 59 minutes later.
As was to be expected, the first British goal of the tournament was celebrated by the mostly British crowd with as much vigor as a nation can muster at an Olympic event when their country goes that much closer to a gold medal.
The reaction seems laughable when you consider how controversial and agitated a player Bellamy has developed the reputation to be in his club career, but there was almost a sense that all was forgotten given the winger’s contributions.
The Liverpool attacker began the game in as lively a fashion as one would expect, developing a neat right-handed partnership with Neil Taylor.
As one of the three over-23 players amongst their ranks, Bellamy’s role in Team GB was always going to be one of mentoring and experience, guiding the younger members of the squad just as Micah Richards and Ryan Giggs are also bound to do.
However, 33 years of age or not, Bellamy was as lively as any and insisted on chasing down any ball, regardless of his chances of success at retaining it.
The Senegalese defense struggled to cope with the tenacity at which the veteran insists on plying his trade, an attribute that was epitomized in Bellamy’s 20th-minute finish to put Team GB ahead.
Despite the range from goal, Bellamy’s chance was far from easy to capitalize upon.
Ryan Giggs floated in a cross in rudimentary enough fashion and the chance seemed to have simmered away after Steven Caulker glanced a header accidentally away from the Senegalese net.
In true Bellamy fashion, though, the poacher was on hand, as he has been so many times in his illustrious career, to thump a half-volley down into the ground before ricocheting past Ousman Mane’s clutches.
Senegal’s No. 1 was helpless to stop the fiercely struck shot as Bellamy finished sweetly as a result of a calm and cool demeanor in front of goal; the kind of demeanor one only picks up after years of experience playing amongst the elite of world football.
After netting his goal, Bellamy didn’t show any signs of slowing, either.
With Daniel Sturridge operating up front on his own, it was important that while Danny Rose made progress down the left flank, Bellamy did his part on the right.
The former Celtic striker certainly lived up to those responsibilities and was a key figure in helping his younger teammates structure their attacks.
That being said, the Welsh forward was impressive when tracking back, too, and although his eagerness often lands him in hot water, it just wouldn’t feel right if Bellamy’s play didn’t warrant a yellow card every now and then.
That box was ticked on Thursday when two minutes into the second half, Ravshan Irmatov cautioned Bellamy for leading with his elbow when leaping up for a header.
The 70th minute saw more controversy when the Britons were denied a penalty at the expense of Bellamy’s body.
In a period scrutinized upon for every contentious referee decision, this draw will be remembered for the moment in which Calious Ciss obliterated—and I use that term literally—Bellamy in what seemed to be just inside the penalty area.
No penalty was given meaning Bellamy garnered even more praise from his heroics and probably helped his image, if anything.
However, the Cardiff-born attacker never really appeared to recover from the horrific challenge and despite receiving treatment, left the field nine minutes later.
Technically speaking, Bellamy can claim that his match finished with a clean sheet and it doesn’t seem coincidental that only two minutes after the player had left the field of play, Senegal equalized and knocked Great Britain off their incredibly high perch.
Of course, that isn’t to say that the game’s second goal wouldn’t have been scored if Bellamy were to have remained on the pitch, as his aging legs were certainly tiring, but conceding so late will have left a mark.
In a match that finished with one apiece, it was Bellamy’s play that turned out to be one of the more thrilling aspects of a Team GB still in its infancy.
Playing against such young opponents, the Liverpool man might not have the fitness to last every minute as he once did, but Bellamy showed a glimpse of what his wits can do to opposition defenses when in their prime.
While Team GB captain, Ryan Giggs, will most probably finish this tournament as Wales’ most legendary Welsh member, it was another age star, Bellamy, who will be remembered on this night.