Published July 26, 2012
Great Britain are expected to contend for a medal at the 2012 Olympics, and it would be a bit embarrassing if they didn't get out of their group. They're not the most talented team in their group -- that would be Uruguay -- but they'll be expecting to have decent matchup advantages somewhere against all of their opponents. They could also be looking ahead to Uruguay, and they're going to get burned on Thursday if they are. Senegal is a sneakily good team.
At almost every position, Senegal will be starting accomplished professionals who play regularly for good club teams, a rarity for African teams in youth competition. There is one notable exception, at goalkeeper, which isn't surprising. In Africa, finding a goalkeeper that's any good before he hits his late 20s is like winning the lottery. They hope to make up for that with a strong back line and athletic defensive midfielders.
Senegal only finished fourth in CAF qualifying and had to get into the Olympics through an inter-continental playoff, but the squad they took to the CAF Under-23 Championship was much weaker than this team. Dame N'Doye, Lille regular Idrissa Gueye and Everton youngster Magaye Gueye have all joined the team since, among other accomplished professionals.
They'll still be underdogs against Great Britain, who should have a bit more skill in midfield. This is, coincidentally, the first time anyone has said anything to this effect about a British team playing in an international competition in football history. If you think England have turned a corner, you're wrong! This team's three most skilled midfielders are all Welsh.
The biggest question for Great Britain heading into the match is whether their defense can hold up against top competition. They looked poor in the first half against Brazil with an odd team that featured Ryan Bertrand at right back. James Tomkinswas very poor in that match, and will need to get better if he's not replaced. Senegal aren't world beaters, but they have athletic strikers who can finish, while Tomkins looked like he had cement shoes against Brazil.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
TV: NBC Sports Network (U.S.), BBC One (U.K.)