There, then, is perhaps the most significant reason why the Olympic tournament is met with a shrug-the-shoulders-and-pass-the-chips attitude here. Olympic men’s soccer teams, unlike their women’s counterparts, are limited to players 23 and under, with three exceptions per squad.
All of that contributed to the odd feel of this match against Senegal. There were several attempts to start the wave, most of them failures. There was some chanting of “G-B! G-B!” And when Senegal scored in the 82nd minute to force a 1-1 draw, there were groans. But for everyone involved, a Premier League game this was not.
“I thought the first 10 minutes, it was a little bit different,” said midfielder Tom Cleverley, who plays for Manchester United. “I’m used to the Stretford End [the famous West end of Old Trafford] roaring, and the fans being right behind us for a United game. But as the game went on, the crowd were fantastic.”
All of this means there is some angst around what, exactly, the tournament means in the host nation of the Olympics. Witness, The Daily Telegraph: “It seems evident on the register of public anticipation, the impending kick-off of the football tournament is hovering between bemused indifference and wholesale apathy.” The paper then called Team GB a “nebulous outfit” playing in a “competition thought of as a pointless add-on.”
The Daily Mail, too, asked the central question: “How many people will actually care?”
The main news Thursday might was the status of 23-year-old Welshman Gareth Bale, a man used to promote Team GB when its uniforms were unveiled last year. Bale pulled out of the Olympics with an injury. He then turned up in Los Angeles, where on Tuesday night he played for his Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur, in a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy and scored a goal.
The easy angle, from London: The Olympics were meaningless enough to be spurned in favor of a preseason friendly.
After the opening goal at Old Trafford, the crowd’s greatest uprising came when Senegal’s Saliou Ciss collided with Bellamy, and no penalty was called. They booed Ciss each time he touched the ball thereafter. But when the final seconds of extra time ticked away, the crowd gathered its flags and its jerseys, and filed out into the night, orderly all the way.
“We’re in it to, obviously, go all the way,” Giggs said. But if they don’t, the sense after the opening match is that even the heartiest soccer fans in a hearty soccer nation will move on, and quite easily.
Other games: Japan stunned gold-medal favorite and 10-man Spain, 1-0. Striker Yuki Otsu scored the winning goal in the 34th minute. . . .
Top-seeded and Group B favorite Mexico did not score any goals and wound up with a 0-0 draw against South Korea. . . .
Honduras squandered a great opportunity to pick up three points when it gave up a goal to Morocco in the 67th minute of a 2-2 draw. . . .
Brazil scored three times in the first half, then held on for a 3-2 victory over Egypt. . . .
Dmitry Baga of Belarus scored on the stroke of halftime for a 1-0 victory over New Zealand. . . .
Admir Mehmedi scored in the fifth minute for Switzerland, but Pierre Aubameyang equalized for Gabon in a 1-1 draw.