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Team GB find heart in Wales

On a day when gold, silver and bronze had lifted Great Britain into sporting raptures, the least the men's football team could do was extend their limited run. Bradley Wiggins has the headlines, and most probably the knighthood, while Helen Glover and Heather Stanning can cherish breaking a British golden duck. And of course the footballing ladies had piled on the pressure too with a perfect group-stage record after the previous day's defeat of Brazil.

Their male equivalents have not been quite so impressive but claimed a significant scalp of their own in ending Uruguay's quest for Olympic glory while keeping their own hopes flourishing.

"Sport's had a fantastic day and it's spread right across Great Britain, that feelgood factor," said ever-patriotic British coach Stuart Pearce after the win. "We're just delighted to have played our small part."

Created by a Welshman in Joe Allen and finished by an Englishman in Daniel Sturridge, GB's winning goal was the type of cross-border co-operation it was hoped this team could signify.

Cardiff was a test for the concept of a team of Great Britons. Whereas Manchester had been typically standoffish in its response to Team GB, and London only a little more enthusiastic amid a Sunday daytrip atmosphere, this was the team's first outing across English borders. How would the Welsh public respond? The Millennium Stadium was not quite full but a healthy crowd suggested there would be no separatist indifference to the Olympic team. The "Land Of My Fathers" proved more than welcoming and the crowd enjoyed themselves ever more as the game went on.

Unlike in Manchester and London, chants could be heard on heavy rotation. Winning tackles were cheered, while near-misses were met with real excitement. The goal raised the roof. Spurred on by the support, Team GB began to play like, yes, a team. The final whistle sounded just after Jack Butland had caught a free-kick from Luis Suarez. Both instances were cheered to the rafters in the fashion a late try conversion would be when rugby union is staged here. Team GB had found its heartland in South Wales.

Having won Group A, Great Britain will be back in Wales' capital for Saturday's quarter-final, to strengthen a definite bond between supporters and team. South Korea are the opponents after coming second in a group topped by Mexico, who had failed to impress in the stadium's earlier kick-off during a lifeless, goalless 1-0 defeat of Switzerland.

A path to a potential medal has been cleared, and especially so with the exit of Uruguay. South America's senior champions follow similarly-fancied Spain out of the competition after two straight defeats. Brazil remain clear favourites after three wins in a row to end their quest for a competition that has always eluded, and often tortured, them but the rest of the draw looks open.

The British national anthem was always expected to be a sticking point, as none of the Welsh contingent led by Craig Bellamy had so far chosen to sing "God Save The Queen". There was no chance of the four Welshmen in the starting line-up joining in here, but the anthem was sung lustily enough, with not a hint of a boo from the locals. An expected media moral panic had fallen by the wayside. And there were plenty of Team GB shirts on the streets of Cardiff too, to mark the probable first and last time many fans would wear a Stella McCartney design.

Ryan Giggs sat on the bench as unused substitute in the city of his birth, a place where it was often said he did not play nearly enough for his country. It seems the near-39-year-old's legs can no longer play three games in six days. "Ryan's come to me and said he felt a little bit stiff and little bit tight," said Pearce. "We've got too many players in good form to risk him."

Instead, Bellamy's creaking knees assumed leadership and he thrived on the responsibility. He may be few people's idea of a man guaranteed to lead by example but he had previously been the outstanding player for this Anglo-Welsh alliance and continued to be so in his home town.

"Bellamy was really dangerous," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez. His full-back German Rolin had been terrorised on the right flank by the Liverpool man, who was eventually given a standing ovation on his substitution for Danny Rose, though some boos were directed at Pearce for removing the local hero.

Luis Suarez, of course, had been booed throughout. He is used to that by now on British shores. So outstanding at last year's Copa America for his country, he has suffered a goalless Olympics on the island where he plies his trade. A decent showing against United Arab Emirates was followed by a series of misfires against Senegal. He looked similarly off-beam in Cardiff, though he was far livelier than Edison Cavani. One of European football's most coveted, the best that the expected cash-machine of Napoli could muster was to hit the side netting once Suarez had forced Jack Butland into a fine save.

"If you didn't know him you'd say he was 26-years-old," said Pearce of the excellent Butland, who had earlier made a clawing set of double saves from Suarez. As the game ebbed into its late stages, Uruguay's tackles became ever harder, while Suarez's claims for imaginary infringements sounded ever louder. Gaston Ramirez may have rattled the bar in injury with a fierce drive but a single goal would not have been enough. Senegal's draw with UAE in Coventry and a fatal Sunday defeat had done for them. "This is the end of the road," lamented Tabarez.

Pearce's team are into the knock-out stages, so often the point at which the English fall apart. Can the addition of some high-quality Welshmen cure age-old problems?

"If we win a quarter-final you have two shots at winning a medal," said Pearce in reference to the bronze medal on offer to the losing semi-finalists. On Sunday against the Koreans, the Welsh will be on his side in the hunt for more British medals.


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