I have to admit I was pretty disappointed that Team GB didn’t qualify for the semi-final of the Olympic games. I’d had tickets for the Old Trafford semi-final for a while and a Brazil/GB match would have always been my preferred encounter, but unfortunately it was not to be. Regardless I was still excited to see a Brazil side who have sparkled so far and a South Korean side who would no doubt prove to be tricky opponents.
Arriving in Manchester was a unique experience in itself, as Piccadilly Station resembled a Brazilian carnival. The Brazilian supporters were out in force playing their steady samba beat in amongst the 9-to-5 commuters, encouraging anyone and everyone to join in their party. It was a pre-match atmosphere that I’ve yet to experience in my time following the Premier League and it was one that I was keen to become further acquainted with.
It was exceptionally easy to get to Old Trafford from the city centre, as the day was excellently organized and stewarded by the ‘game makers’ volunteers, a stand out feature of the Olympics so far. Outside the ground, it again proved to be a distinctive experience for myself as the South Korean supporters began to merge with the growing crowds and make themselves heard with some of their own unique chanting.
As for the match itself, it was South Korea who made most of the chances early on as they twice came within a whisker of taking the lead through Sunderland man Ji Dong-Won and Brazil were rocking. You felt that in order for them to get a result in this match then they would have had to have taken one of those early opportunities as Brazil inevitably grew into the game. Neymar started to show flashes of class, whilst Sandro and Oscar began to take hold of the midfield. And just as the Brazilian samba band made their way into the stadium (much to the delight of the Old Trafford crowd), Brazil broke the deadlock; Romulo finishing neatly after Oscar’s lay off.
At the start of the second half, the South Koreans where denied the clearest of penalties, a decision which seemed to deflate them for the remainder of the contest. Leandro Damaio netted twice in the second half after good work from Neymar on both occasions. The third goal came after the Brazilians kept the ball for around three minutes. Neymar demonstrated glimpses of his talent but often tried to do too much. Damaio was clinical and Oscar looked every inch the £25m player that Chelsea have invested in. Brazil ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
One thing that struck me during the game was how full Old Trafford was. The attendance was announced at 69,889 and there was a further 83,372 at Wembley for the other semi final between Mexico and Japan. Team GB also sold out Cardiff twice, putting pay to the notion that non-English supporters wouldn’t contribute. I remember writing a piece before the games questioning the nation’s passion for the Olympic soccer tournament, but it seems to have caught the imagination of the British public. It was muted the stadiums would be empty for the soccer games as the other sports would take focus, particularly in the absence of David Beckham who would have no doubt drawn in the crowds.
But in his absence, it has been all about the stuff on the pitch and the up-and-coming stars plying their trade on it. Stadiums have been packed to watch some high class action and Saturday’s final between Brazil and Mexico should prove to be an exciting spectacle to cap what has been a great tournament for anyone who has followed it as closely as myself. I would encourage anyone to take the time to watch the final this weekend.
In amongst the celebration of pure sport that these Olympics have been, the soccer has certainly not been out of place.
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