MANCHESTER, England – Hosts Britain were denied victory on their return to the Olympic Games after a 52-year absence when they were held to a 1-1 draw by debutants Senegal in their opening Group A match at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Britain looked to be heading for a win after Welsh veteran Craig Bellamy, at 33 one of their over-age players, lashed home after 20 minutes.
But Senegal, who rallied strongly after the break, equalised in the 82nd minute when Moussa Konate timed his run perfectly to stay onside and clip the ball past goalkeeper Jack Butland.
Britain almost stole all three points in the 88th minute when Aaron Ramsey set up substitute Marvin Sordell but he shot against the bar.
Britain coach Stuart Pearce told reporters afterwards: “On reflection I would have to say a draw was probably a fair result, although of course I would have preferred a win.
“However there was some very good elements of the game we will build on for the next match against UAE on Sunday.”
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse, whose team faced some criticism for their physical approach said: “African teams are not just about physique because we also have tactical and technical qualities. We are going to try and prove this at the Olympics.”
Senegal’s young team — eight of the players in their squad were developed at an academy founded by Senegalese-born former France international Patrick Vieira — could well make a mark on this tournament.
While Senegal were making their Olympic debuts, Britain was returning as hosts having been absent since the Rome Games of 1960 because of political differences involving Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland regarding their own independence within FIFA.
But all that was forgotten as a near capacity crowd of 72,476 enjoyed a memorable night which began with Uruguay beating the United Arab Emirates 2-1 in the group opener.
They were also close to witnessing a British win, but were denied the chance despite an excellent performance from Britain’s other Welsh veteran, skipper Ryan Giggs.
At 38 years and eight months old, and playing on his home Manchester United ground, Giggs became the oldest outfield soccer player ever to appear in the Olympic finals.
Giggs also had a hand in Bellamy’s goal as the Senegal defence failed to clear his free-kick. The ball fell to Bellamy who scored with a fierce volley into the ground that flew up past goalkeeper Ousmane Mane.
Britain, playing only their second match together since the Olympics squad was announced, seemed far more settled from the start than they were at any time during last week’s warm-up against Brazil in Middlesbrough which they lost 2-0.
However, they lacked bite in the second half and that was always inviting danger against Senegal who had certainly not come to make up the numbers.
They also went close to scoring more themselves, once when Sadio Mane dinked the ball wide after goalkeeper Jack Butland made a rare mistake and hit a weak clearance straight to him. The second time was when Danny Rose headed an effort off the line.
Britain next face the United Arab Emirates while Uruguay play Senegal in another double-header at Wembley on Sunday.