Ryan Giggs pulls strings as Team GB find feet against UAE
Great Britain 3 United Arab Emirates 1: There was palpable scepticism in the build-up to these Games as to the extent a hastily assembled side could compete in a major finals yet Great Britain last night went within touching distance of the quarter-finals after an encouraging display here.
The echoes with England's Euro 2012 campaign grow ever louder; a once cynical public are growing in belief as a team expected to remain only briefly competitive find themselves top of their group.
Better Senegal's result against United Arab Emirates when facing Uruguay in Wales on Wednesday and Great Britain will win Group A. Whereas Roy Hodgson opted for pragmatic conservatism in prolonging their stay in Poland and Ukraine, Stuart Pearce's side are finding their feet with a more expansive take on the underdog script.
It is an ensemble orchestra conducted superbly by Ryan Giggs, with Craig Bellamy buzzing on the left flank, Tom Cleverley displaying increasing maturity in midfield and Aaron Ramsey making a decent fist of an unaccustomed position on the right. They found three moments of quality to defeat a talented UAE side to suggest progress is bring made at an impressive rate.
Earlier in the day, Moussa Konaté added to his strike against Great Britain at Old Trafford with both goals in Senegal's 2-0 defeat of Uruguay to upset the anticipated hierarchy in Group A. Senegal played for more than an hour with 10 men after Abdoulaye Ba's dismissal for cynically fouling Luis Suarez.
In an attempt to build on Thursday's 1-1 draw against Senegal, Great Britain made three changes with James Tomkins, Aaron Ramsey and Marvin Sordell replacing Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose and Daniel Sturridge.
Pearce was in search of greater cohesion, particularly in the final third but the opening exchanges were decidedly staccato.
Ramsey just failed with a toepoke towards goal in the opening minute, while Rashed Eisa's goalbound shot was headed clear by Micah Richards at the other end. The hosts were attempting invention without creating anything of note. Suddenly, Great Britain struck an irresistible rhythm in the 16th minute. Giggs jinked past two defenders on the right before squaring the ball to Cleverley in a central position, 25 yards from goal. The Manchester United midfielder shunned a shooting position to feed Bellamy, who delivered a sumptuous cross to the back post where Giggs headed? in.
The UAE posed Uruguay significant problems in their opener and were not deterred by falling behind. Ahmed Khalil provided a reminder of their threat when moving incisively down the left before flashing a ball dangerously across Jack Butland's goal.
Sordell's strength and persistence won a free-kick Ramsey took quickly but Cleverley was unable to convert. The 22-year-old was even more unlucky moments later when Bellamy pulled the ball back and Cleverley's measured left-foot strike somehow struck both posts and stayed out.
Sturridge replaced Sordell at half-time and had Great Britain's first chance after the interval but failed to beat Khaseif from inside the box.
However, UAE were level on the hour mark as Great Britain's defence parted in an alarmingly similar manner as when conceding to Senegal.
This time Tomkins was the culprit, faltering badly as Eisa met Omar Abdulrahman's pass to coolly beat Butland from close range.
Great Britain faltered but Pearce responded with the introduction of Scott Sinclair for the tiring Giggs and the Swansea City forward met Bellamy's cross to sidefoot his team in front.
UAE barely had pause for breath before Sturridge raced clear to finish with a delightful dinked finish over goalkeeper Ali Khaseif to put Great Britain within sight of the last eight.
Next stop Cardiff.
Scorers: GB: Giggs 16, Sinclair 73, Sturridge 76. UEA: Eisa 60
Substitutes: Great Britain Sturridge (Sordell, h-t), Sinclair (Giggs, 72), Cork (Bellamy, 83).
United Arab Emirates Surour (Hussain, 51), Ali (Matar, 72), Fardan (Esmaell, 79).
Booked: United Arab Emirates Esmaeel, O Abdulrahman. Man of the match Giggs. Match rating 7/10.
Attempts on target: Great Britain 10. UAE 2.
Possession: Great Britain 60%. UAE 40%.
Referee: R Garcia (Mexico).