Apathy and Brazil to test GB football team
The team that many of their compatriots didn't want will return in public after decades of unmourned absence Friday without their biggest star and against one of the favourites for an Olympic football tournament where tickets are being withdrawn.
Welcome to the strange world of the Great Britain team, who are set to play their lone, full-blown warm-up match against Brazil at northeast side Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium, far away from the Games hub of London.
Not since 1960 has a British side competed at an Olympics and, even though they are now on their doorstep, there are many within UK football who wish the exile was ongoing.
Currently, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all exist as independent football nations.
Despite repeated assurances from FIFA, the world governing body, the fear among the Celtic countries, who have urged their players to boycott Olympic football, is that involvement in any Great Britain team will jeopardise their separate identities and one day lead to them being absorbed into an all-British side dominated by England.
Team GB manager Stuart Pearce, the former England defender, always insisted he would select his 18-man squad on merit and, in so doing, has spared 50 percent of the constituent nations of Britain a dilemma by not picking any Scottish or Northern Irish players.
However, that has bolstered the hand of the "doomsday scenario" lobby.
And Pearce, who has chosen 13 Englishmen and five Welshmen, also showed the same lack of sentimentality that saw him nicknamed "Psycho" in his playing days by omitting David Beckham, not just the most famous active British footballer but a global celebrity.
Pearce decided the much-praised role Beckham, who now plays for the lightly regarded Los Angeles Galaxy, had in bringing the Olympics to his home city of London was no compensation for the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England midfielder's waning powers on the pitch.
Some, though, have even pointed to Beckham's absence playing a role in the decision this week by games organisers to take up to 500,000 football tickets off sale, due to a lack of demand.
But instead of making the ex-England captain the skipper of his Team GB side, Pearce gave the honour to Manchester United great Ryan Giggs, still going strong at Old Trafford, and now one of three over-age players in an Olympic competition that is primarily an Under-23 event.
For the 38-year-old Welshman this is uncharted territory in more ways than one as the last time Wales qualified for the latter stages of a major tournament was at the 1958 World Cup.
Team GB lost their recent first "friendly" by the only goal to Mexico, and Pearce is looking for his side to build on what he described as an encouraging performance against the Central Americans, played over three 30-minute periods in a behind-closed-door game in Spain.
England begin the tournament proper against Senegal at Old Trafford on July 26 and also face the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay in the group stage.
"The experience of playing together as a group against Mexico has been a big help," said Pearce.
"I want to see us push on form that display now when we face Brazil."
The presence of the South Americans, the rest of the world's "second favourite" team should, organisers hope, ensure a crowd of some 30,000 in a Riverside where the capacity is 35,000.
Many Middlesbrough fans have warm memories of Juninho, the Brazilian playmaker who had two spells with the club in the 1990s and 2000s.
Now Brazil are expected to include Oscar, the 20-year-old midfielder who is in the process of completing a Â£25-million ($39-million, 31.8-million-euro) move from Internacional to European champions Chelsea, in their side for Friday's match.
Olympic football boasts a rich history, having been included as a medal sport since 1900.
The strongly fancied Brazilians, who won bronze in Beijing four years ago, have been paired with Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand in the 16-team tournament, staged at six venues, which culminates in a final at Wembley Stadium on August 11.
Reigning Olympic champions Argentina failed to qualify.
Despite the apparent spectator-apathy for the football tournament, Giggs insisted: "Expectation will grow as we get closer to the games. We're the home team and hopefully the fans will come out and support us."
Related Team GB News