Senegal-Great Britain Preview
The Olympic hosts put a cap on the first day of men's soccer action Thursday when Britain takes on Senegal in a Group A matchup at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Britain won gold at the Summer Games in 1900, '08 and '12, but hasn't been represented in Olympic soccer since 1960. No nation has won more than three gold medals.
"Olympic football is important worldwide," said manager Stuart Pearce, who has selected a squad dominated by England under-21 players, but also includes five Wales internationals.
"Great Britain has not had a team in it since 1960 and people are not sure of its magnitude. We know there's something special. When I've spoken to the players individually and said 'how are you feeling about it?', they say they find it different.
"There's just something special about it that probably we can't put into words. There's something of a magnitude which is just incredible, that we are involved in. The advice to all the players is, 'Look we are in it, let's give it our best and try and win the tournament'. That's what we will prepare to do.
"When the tournament starts it is up to us to generate excitement in the stadium - we need to play our part in the team of 500-odd G.B. athletes and we are looking forward to the challenge."
Britain has found itself in a tricky group that also includes Uruguay, and Pearce's side looked outmatched in a disappointing 2-0 loss to Brazil in its warmup game Friday.
"We know the standard now," admitted defender Micah Richards. "Brazil are the favorites and they have got some outstanding players. But looking at our group, I know we can definitely do something.
"The team are not yet 100 percent fully fit, but we will be. We are lacking a bit in the final third and need to create more chances, but at least we were not playing 'route one'. We're trying to play football."
The London Games will be Senegal's first taste of Olympic soccer, and assistant coach Aliou Cisse admits that the squad will have to exceed expectations to make it to the knockout round.
"We've had a very good reception and the atmosphere has been great," said Cisse. "The boys are very happy to be here and they have a big determination to do well.
"We know we are not the favorites and everyone expects Great Britain and Uruguay to get through, but we still have ambitions to cause a surprise. We will play with happiness and hope we can do something."
Premier League star Mohamed Diame has been encouraged by what he has seen in the build-up to the tournament, and is relishing the opportunity of playing against the oldest outfield player in Olympic history - Ryan Giggs.
"I think the team is ready," said Giggs. "We've been preparing for two weeks and played three friendly matches so we feel ready.
"It is the first time Senegal has played in the Olympic Games, so we don't have a lot of pressure. We are just going to try to give our best on the pitch.
"We know everyone is going to be watching this game, so it's important that we show how good Senegal are. Great Britain have a lot of experience, with players like Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy and some big stars like Micah Richards, but we will be focusing on our own team and trying to do the job for the people back at home."
Both teams' Olympic schedule will continue Sunday at Wembley Stadium, where Senegal faces Uruguay and Britain plays the United Arab Emirates.