Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mexico 4 Senegal 2

Tournament Programme

Oh, Olympics of London how I love you. This wonderful carnival of sport, here in the greatest country in the world. This showcase of the best of sport, the best of Britain and the best of humanity. 

Something has changed about Britain in these past two weeks and perhaps something has also changed about London. The capital unmistakably has a softer, friendlier visage now the whole world is looking at it. People have a spring in their step and a smile on their face, however fleeting. 

Maybe it is the apparently endless stream of British success, maybe it is the popular patriotism and pride in waving the Union flag, maybe it is the effortless organisation of everything, maybe it is the relief than nothing has gone wrong to spoil the show - but the feel-good barometer of city and country is off the chart. 

The Olympic naysayers have gone into hiding. They moaned about the cost and the hassle and the traffic and the stress - and now they have beat a hasty retreat. Who now would try and claim the Olympics have not made life better these last two weeks? 

I won’t be able to select a favourite moment from the Games of the 30th Summer Olympiad - there are simply too many. I choked up when Sir Chris Hoy took his curtain call on the Olympic stage, a gold round his neck and tears flooding from his eyes. I was delirious when Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, even though I had watched the climax on an iPhone screen in a Honda Logo in the drop off area outside Sheffield Station. 

I was at Headingley cricket ground watching the torrential rain pour down on the Test Match on Sunday when  Andy Murray won at Wimbledon. The throng gathered around a tiny television screen behind the snack bar bounced when he delivered the coup de grace - an ace - to win gold, strangers embraced and all burst into a spontaneous rendition of the national anthem. 

There are many more tales to tell, many more ‘where were you?’ moments - everyone will have them. 

But I have been in an office for the most part, watching hawk-like and writing articles for the Mail Online. It has been a pleasure to write the first draft of history during these Olympics and share my joy in experiencing it through my words and choice of pictures. Such has been the British success that the whooping and unprompted applause that accompany every medal have become beautifully regular occurrences in the office. Etiquette and professionalism can go out the window, people beam with delight. 

I spend anything up to 16 hours each day watching, thinking about, talking, reading and writing about the Olympics and yet, writing this on Day 12, I don’t feel any fatigue. I’ve also been to five Olympic events - all for pleasure I add, the media accreditation was sorted out long before I arrived in London - and feel so immensely satisfied that I have been and witnessed it live. 

The fifth and final of my events (so far) was this football quarter-final between Mexico and Senegal on Saturday. There’s nothing new for me about visiting Wembley Stadium, of course, but there was a pleasantly different feel for the Olympics. 

Gone was the usual inherent tension of going to watch England - the stress of supporting such an under-achieving team - to be replaced by an easy-going, friendly atmosphere. Fans of myriad clubs and countries - I must have spotted shirts and flags of three dozen football sides walking down Wembley Way - mingled happily and all enjoyed the occasion. 

I was an honorary member of Clan Searles for the day after my good mate James invited me along. And quite a clan it was - a collection of parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and siblings who had annexed off a entire row in the posh seats. They’re the ones who don’t come back after half-time. 

I think we’d all hoped that Great Britain would finish second in their group - i.e. do well but not too well - and we’d get to see them here, but as it transpired Mexico-Senegal was almost certainly a more entertaining game. 

Senegal were the more imposing team physically but handicapped themselves with shoddy defending, allowing Mexico, who could string plenty of passes together, to take control. They struck the crossbar through Marco Fabian on three minutes and had the lead on ten when Jorge Enriquez was right place, right time to head home a cross from Giovani dos Santos. 

Unusually for a knockout tie, this game was  delightfully open. Both sides pinged sixty yard passes with abandon and worked the flanks, raining in teasing crosses. There were chances aplenty but no further goals before my half-time £5 bottle of Coca-Cola (no Pepsi, it’s been outlawed).

When Mexico, who were cheered on by a fairly noisy contingent of sombrero wearers even in the prawn sandwich seats, doubled their advantage on 63 minutes through Javier Aquino, my mind was already on the train to Sheffield I had to catch at half six. 

But Senegal rallied superbly and dragged themselves level. The lively Konate headed his fifth goal of the tournament (who says nobody takes it seriously) before Ibrahima Balde levelled with 14 to play. 

I left during stoppage time, dashing to Wembley Central to get a train back into central London. It was a shame because extra time was probably every bit as entertaining. In the end, Mexico gathered themselves and won 4-2 to reach the last four, with goals from Dos Santos and Hector Herrera.

Sure, it wasn’t the greatest Olympic moment of all time, but this game will always be lodged somewhere in my memory amid these golden days. 

Next Match: My first Boston United fixture of the season will be this Saturday (work permitting), a pre-season friendly at Chelmsford