By Matt Scott
Ahead of Team GB’s warm-up clash with Brazil on Friday night, Stuart Pearce seemed to have cause for optimism.
Writing in his programme notes, he marvelled at his squad: "The magnitude of the Olympics is finally hitting them."
However, after being outclassed for an entire game by the Selecao, Britain’s Olympic side looks far from together.
Brazil attacked with a purposeful and flowing style, Neymar, Leandro Damiao, Hulk and Oscar combining and interchanging flawlessly. GB’s first-half forward line of Daniel Sturridge, Craig Bellamy and Danny Rose, however, was static and completely devoid of ideas.
Throughout the starting XI on Friday, imbalances and a lack of thought were evident.
With Micah Richards set to play at centre-back for the tournament, Pearce has failed to select a recognised right-back. The left-sided pair of Ryan Bertrand and Neil Taylor performed to their best in the role, but a natural desire to cut inside when on the ball often ruined the defence’s shape.
Centrally, Richards looked far from imperious. Beaten in the air time after time by Damiao, the Manchester City man also clumsily gave away a penalty after Hulk had zipped past him in the area. The 24-year-old may be looking at the Olympics as a place to prove himself on the international stage; he failed to do so at the Riverside.
Ahead of the back line sat a midfield trio of Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Joe Allen, and once again a lack of planning and forethought were clear.
None of the three spotted a need to sit deep in order to limit Chelsea target Oscar’s influential grip on the game and collect the ball as Team GB attempted, and repeatedly failed, to work the ball out from defence.
Giggs recycled the ball intelligently, as would be expected from him, but Allen lacked the clinical passing that saw him star for Swansea last season, while Cleverley responded to the uncertainty by doing very little at all.
Pearce’s side set out with plenty of industry and bluster early on, but it soon became apparent that this would not be anywhere near enough. Poor British defending and quick Brazilian thinking saw the Selecao take the lead through Sandro’s header before Neymar swept home the spot kick awarded after Richards’ tangle with Hulk.
While Mano Menezes’ side repeatedly cut through the British defences, the home side barely mustered a chance in the entire game. A desperate header across goal from Richards and an offside Bellamy forcing a save from Rafael Cabral were their sum total of meaningful attacks over the 90 minutes.
When Pearce tried to change things, his substitutions were largely uninspiring. Little may be expected of Marvin Sordell but he delivered even less, while Aaron Ramsey, another likely to be keen to use the Games as a platform to better things next season looked uninterested throughout.
After Giggs and Richards were substituted, Allen being given the captain’s armband ahead of his Wales skipper spoke volumes of the Arsenal midfielder’s complete lack of authority on the game.
With things so unhinged on the pitch, emotions were barely stirred among the 24,000 Teessiders in attendance. Not once did a chant of any kind break out and the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for Middlesbrough goalkeeper Jason Steele when the teams were announced pre-match.
Neymar quickly cast himself as the pantomime villain, combining fancy footwork with a couple of theatrical tumbles and a goal for good measure which drew some playful boos and jeers, but the sterility of the occasion was in stark contrast to the pride and passion predicted before the game.
There was one bright note for Team GB, however. Jack Butland, introduced for the second half, put in a magnificent performance to prove why, still at the age of 18, clubs are making multi-million pound bids for him and why Roy Hodgson selected him for his Euro 2012 squad.
A brave stop at the feet of Lucas Moura was quickly followed up by a sharp save from a Neymar effort, but the best was saved for last, as the Birmingham keeper athletically tipped Alexandre Pato’s header over. Aside from the saves, Butland demonstrated good communication with his defenders and crucial decision making when crosses were fired into the box.
Steven Caulker also defended confidently after being introduced while Tottenham team-mate Rose looked much more comfortable when moved to left-back than he had in attack.
It may not be much to go on, but after a dire start to Team GB’s footballing summer it could be a rare bonus of more tournament woes for British fans.Follow Matt Scott on