July 26 - On the eve of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and more than half-a-century after their last appearance at the Olympic football tournament, Britain's men came within nine agonising minutes of pulling off an historic victory tonight but ultimately ran out of steam as party-poopers Senegal ruined Ryan Giggs' special night.
After so much hype about Giggs' (pictured above, left) one-time Manchester United teammate David Beckham being left out and so much anxiety about how a squad who had never before played together would perform, Stuart Pearce will be under no illusions about the task ahead at London 2012 as Senegal deservedly fought back to draw 1-1 in front of a crowd of over 72,000.
It was so nearly the ultimate celebration for Giggs, the Team GB captain and, at 38, the oldest outfield player ever to appear in the men's event.
Now, instead, Team GB will almost certainly have to beat the United Arab Emirates on Sunday (July 29) to stand a realistic chance of staying in the competition.
To put the unfamiliar nature of the game into perspective, there was none of the familiar passionate chanting that usually accompanies the build-up to kickoff.
British players are not used to playing together at national level but how fitting it was that Giggs, in front of his home crowd, should set up the Team GB goal with a 19th-minute free kick.
How poignant too that the man who finished it off for the country's first Olympic goal since 1960 was his fellow Welshman Craig Bellamy (pictured top, right), like Giggs one of three over-age players in the team.
Olympic organisers may have withdrawn half-a-million football tickets because of sluggish sales but Old Trafford was only a few thousand short of capacity for Team GB's debut, no doubt in part because of the appearance of the evergreen Giggs.
Only Senegal's Sadio Mané, however, will know how he failed to equalise when he was one-on-one with Jack Butland after a terrible clearance by the 19-year-old keeper, somehow chipping his shot wide.
Pearce gave Daniel Sturridge, his main striker, only 45 minutes because of suspect fitness and after the restart the Africans poured forward.
Butland redeemed himself with a brilliant reflex stop from Saliou Ciss, and then beat away another Senegalese effort while defender Danny Rose cleared off the line.
Senegal, who only qualified by beating Oman in a playoff in April, showed their frustration at being unable to score by flying into tackles, notably on Bellamy who was left writhing in agony by Ciss who was lucky to remain on the pitch.
Off went the battered Welshman, seemingly with a word to the officials, and with the host nation tiring, it was no surprise when Moussa Konaté superbly levelled on 81 minutes for the fitter Africans, preventing Team GB emulating the women's 1-0 success 24 hours earlier.
Shades in the end, you might say, of the England senior team.
In other words, starting with a draw and being unable to close the game out.
Still, at least they have to fight another day.
"We have to handle the disappointment of conceding a late goal," said Pearce, the England under-21 coach.
"As I've seen many times in tournaments the first game is often a nervous affair.
"There were some nervous faces in the dressing room beforehand.
"Whether you are the host nation or not, the expectation was there.
"But if we can replicate the same atmosphere on Sunday, we'll have a chance.
"Giggs and Bellamy are going to be absolutely crucial to this group, not just on the pitch but particularly between now and Sunday."
Before Team GB took the field, the first part of the evening's double header in Group A saw hotly favoured Uruguay come from behind to beat United Arab Emirates 2-1.
There was certainly no Olympic spirit in terms of the crowd's reaction to Uruguay striker Luis Suárez.
This was the Liverpool striker's first appearance at Old Trafford since the infamous verbal exchange with Manchester United's Patrice Evra which led to Suárez receiving an eight-match ban.
He was booed relentlessly but in the end had the last laugh as Uruguay, making their first appearance in the finals since they won the gold in 1928, took the honours despite being outplayed for most of the first half when they had to rely on Martín Campaña to keep them in the game.
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