An otherwise golden day for Britain at the Olympic Games ended in an all too familiar disappointment for soccer fans when the men’s team were knocked out after losing a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
Britain’s men, back in the Olympics for the first time in 52 years, suffered the agony that England have virtually perfected in World Cups and European Championships when they were beaten 5-4 on penalties by South Korea at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
At stake was a semi-final against Brazil and a chance of at least adding a bronze to the medal haul that Britain continued to collect earlier on Saturday with three athletics golds and three elsewhere.
Instead, Britain’s flirtation with Olympic soccer is now probably over for many years.
With the game level at 1-1 after extra time and the teams locked at 4-4 in the shootout, Daniel Sturridge’s stop-start run-up ended with Korea’s substitute goalkeeper Lee Bum-young saving his shot.
Ki Sung-yueng, who plays for Celtic in Scotland, converted his penalty to give the Koreans a 5-4 victory and send Britain out with a somewhat ironic twist of the knife.
The Scottish Football Association, along the FA of Wales and the Northern Ireland FA, have long opposed the notion of a British team because they fear it will compromise their independent status within soccer’s governing body FIFA.
Along with dominant England, who supported having the British team, the four compete as separate nations in non-Olympic soccer.
The reticence of the three means a British side have largely stayed out of the Games since Rome 1960 with their last Olympic involvement a failed qualifying campaign for Munich 1972.
Coach Stuart Pearce, who did well with a squad that came together only four weeks ago, does not think it likely they will take part in the qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“The format of Team GB in the Olympics would be fantastic but I do not think it will happen again,” Pearce told reporters.
“Home advantage has allowed us to have this opportunity but when you look at international programmes and bringing nationalities together, where are we going to find the time to enter a qualification period?”
Pearce’s 18-man squad comprised 13 Englishmen and five Welsh players, including Ryan Giggs, one of three over-age players in the age-restricted squad which also included another Welsh veteran Craig Bellamy – the outstanding player in their four-match campaign.
Giggs created a slice of Olympic history against the United Arab Emirates at Wembley last Sunday when, at the age of 38 years and 243 days, he became the oldest man to play in and then score in the Games soccer tournament.
He added another six days to that playing record when he came on as a late substitute against South Korea in his birth city of Cardiff, but even though he netted a superb penalty in the shootout the midfielder could not steer his team through.
Britain improved after their first official game – a 2-0 defeat by Brazil in a warmup at Middlesbrough on July 20 – drawing with Senegal and then beating the UAE and Uruguay to win their group.
They might have beaten the Koreans too if Aaron Ramsey had not missed a penalty in normal time, three minutes after converting an earlier spotkick to make the score 1-1.
Britain’s women also exited the competition at the same stage on Friday when they were beaten by Canada in Coventry but they also set a record during the competition, showing “British” football can prosper.
The crowd of 70,584 for their match against Brazil at Wembley was the highest ever for a women’s match in Britain and there is genuine belief the women’s game in the United Kingdom could grow after being in the shadows for many years.
Manager Hope Powell, who has bossed England for 13 years, would also like to see Britain’s Olympic involvement continue.
“For me personally, and for the players, absolutely,” she said.
“If the opportunity to play at the Olympics – just the women – arose again, and we could do that, I would love it.”
Meanwhile, gold medal favourites Brazil twice came from behind to beat Honduras 3-2 with a penalty from Neymar and two from Leandro Damiao to clinch their place in the semi-finals of the men’s Olympic soccer tournament on Saturday.
They will face the winners of the last quarter-final to be played on Saturday between Britain and South Korea who meet at Cardiff at 1830 GMT, while Mexico will face Japan in the other semi-final.
Mexico survived a fightback from Senegal in a thrilling match that delighted a crowd of almost 82,000 at Wembley who saw Senegal come from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 before two defensive errors allowed Mexico to win 4-2 in extra time.
Japan also made it to the last four with a 3-0 win over Egypt that pulled another huge crowd of 70,000 at Old Trafford.
Both semi-finals will be played on Tuesday with Mexico facing Japan at Wembley and Brazil playing their game at Old Trafford.