Does the Olympic Games need football more than vice-versa?

Events at the start of London 2012 might suggest that. The entire Games extravaganza was kicked off – literally – by the women’s football game between Great Britain and New Zealand; then the British men’s starter at Manchester United’s Old Trafford pulled in a 72,176 attendance.

The latter result also threw wide open the question of whether Britain’s men can qualify for the knockout stages, never mind come anywhere near picking up a medal of even the minimum bronze hue?

No-one who saw Senegal win their qualifying play-off against Oman early this year in Coventry would have been surprised to see them force a 1-1 draw with Stuart Pearce’s men. The consolation for Pearce and his scratch team may have been found in a glance at other results on the opening day of the men’s competition.

Favoured Spain – with three Euro 2012 winners in their squad – lost 1-0 to Japan while star-laden Brazil very nearly threw away victory over Egypt.

Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, was always an appropriate choice among football venues for the 2012 Olympic Games: Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager who laid the United legend between the 1940s and 1960s, managed the Great Britain football team at the 1948 Games.

Even neater, it was there that the present-day successor of Busby’s Team GB – not that the term had even been coined in 1948 – made their first appearance at the Games ‘proper’ since 1960 and their first in any competitive guise since losing to Bulgaria in the 1971 qualifiers.

But an early goal from Craig Bellamy, after Senegal failed to clear a Ryan Giggs free kick, was not enough. What the two over-age veterans achieved was undone by sloppy defensive work and an delicate equaliser by Moussa Konate.

Britain must now win at Wembley on Sunday against a United Arab Emirates team who put up an impressive performance against Uruguay despite losing 2-1. Uruguay had two of their own senior playersto thank: Luis Suarez laid on the winner for Nicolas Lodeiro.

Brazil beat Egypt 3-2 and had particular cause to be grateful for Neymar’s first Olympic goal; it gave them an early 3-0 advantage and meant he and his team-mates were just about able to withstand the Egyptians’ second-half fightback.

As for Spain, they lost not only the match against Japan but defender Inigo Martinez to a first-half red card. Still, they won the World Cup in 2010 after losing their first game. No-one dare write them off quite yet.

The women’s competition saw the first definitive act in London 2012 competition undertaken not by an American. Kari Seitz was the historic figure, blowing her whistle as referee to signal the start of the action of not only Britain’s 1-0 women’s win over New Zealand but of the entire XXX Olympiad.

Arsenal fullback Steph Houghton scored the British winner with a second-half free kick while victorious starts were also celebrated by the United States Olympic champions (4-2 v France), by Women’s World Cup holders Japan (2-1 v Canada) and by Sweden (4-1 v South Africa).

Only one snag spoiled the effective first day for Lord Sebastian Coe and his LOCOG organisation: that was the diplomatic blunder up in Scotland where officials at Hampden Park, Glasgow, screened the wrong Korean flag just as the North were taking the field against Colombia in the day’s last women’s football match.

That didn’t happen in 1966.

By Keir Radnedge

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