On paper, the fact that Daniel Sturridge has made a decisive contribution to Great Britain’s run to the quarter-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament should not have been a big surprise. Indeed, with a total of 25 Premier League goals to his name already, the 22-year-old attacker was swiftly highlighted as a potential key man as soon as Stuart Pearce announced his squad for London 2012.
However, in football as in life nothing is guaranteed, and the Chelsea man has since had to overcome sizeable obstacles in order to become one of the heroes of Team GB’s successful negotiation from the group stage. Just over three weeks before the tournament began, the former Manchester City starlet was diagnosed with viral meningitis, subsequently spending the entire recovery period facing the real threat of missing out on the Games, only to finally prove his fitness in time.
Yet while his physical condition was no longer in doubt, uncertainty still surrounded the gifted forward. In 26 July’s eagerly awaited opening encounter against Senegal, Sturridge started the match only to be withdrawn at the start of the second period, while in the next outing, against United Arab Emirates, he began the game on the bench. Was this the short, sharp shock he needed to go on and fire his team into the last eight?
“Since then, Danny’s been incredible. We didn’t think he played particularly well in the opening game and we left him out [of the starting XI] in the second match, but he came on with a point to prove against the Emirates and scored a beautiful goal,” England head coach Pearce told FIFA.com, in reference to Team GB’s third goal in a 3-1 victory.
This preceded a 1-0 win over Uruguay in Cardiff, when Sturridge again got on the scoresheet. “He went on to do exactly what we expected from him against Uruguay," added Pearce. "His goals have been tremendously valuable to our success here.”
Though Pearce has deployed different starting line-ups in each of Great Britain’s three group encounters, the supremo is gradually settling on a team with Sturridge spearheading the attack – either as the out-and-out striker in a three-man frontline or as part of a highly mobile forward duo with Welsh livewire Craig Bellamy.
“'Bellers’ is an incredible player and he’s proven that throughout his whole career,” said Sturridge to FIFA.com. “We played together at Manchester City and I think we click really well out on the pitch, whether he’s playing out wide or alongside me in a front two,” added the player, who in the past has often stated his own preference for a central role.
“Of course he prefers it,” chipped in Pearce on his No9, when the subject was raised. “He doesn’t need to do as much running when he’s playing centre-forward. That’s the only reason!”
And given the Team GB players continue to gel and show improvement with each passing game, the British squad will be confident of overcoming the disadvantage of being assembled exclusively for the Games. This lack of matches together comes in stark contrast to compact and well-drilled quarter-final opponents Korea Republic, for whom six of their squad played together as far back as the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.
“Of course it’s more difficult when you’re setting up a team almost overnight, but the fact is we’ve got good players and, as the weeks go by, we’re building up connections and partnerships out on the pitch,” said Sturridge as the interview concluded. “And, above all else, everybody’s been getting on really well. There are no divisions within the group. We’re all genuinely pleased to be part of the Great Britain squad. I think, at the end of the day, that’s our greatest strength.”