Sent to Coventry, but Senegal book Olympic spot

Phil Shaw watches Africans seal the final place in today’s draw with victory over Oman

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The Independent Football

Olympic football returned to British soil last night for the first time since Ted Heath was ensconced in No 10 and T Rex glittered at No 1.

On a lush surface where an old, contaminated gasworks stood a decade ago, Senegal beat Oman 2-0 in the inter-continental play-off to decide which country would be the last to join Stuart Pearce's Team GB in today's draw for the 2012 men's tournament.

Pearce, a Coventry player in the days when the Sky Blues' annual relegation struggle was conducted in the English game's top tier, looked on as the bigger, stronger Senegalese booked a place in the Olympic finals for the first time.

Ibrahima Baldé, an eye-catching attacker who plays for Osasuna in Spain, scored inside 90 seconds, with substitute Abdoulaye Sané, of Rennes in France, sealing their passage in the 88th minute.

Some 11,611 spectators occupied a third of the seats inside what will be called the City of Coventry Stadium for the duration of the Games. So the Ricoh Arena, as it is normally known, was not rocking as it is likely to do next month when Coldplay play to the venue's first 40,000-plus crowd.

This, however, was a "test event" as well as a play-off between Africa and Asia, a dry run for everything from the security and public-address system to parking and pie sales.

In organisational terms, the evening appeared to go smoothly, if not for Oman. The Arab sultanate's best-known player, the Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, had paid for 20 coach-loads of Omani exiles to attend the game, ensuring the West African contingent was drowned out. In a match contested by Under-23 teams, Al-Habsi did not play, which was unfortunate for his compatriots because, at 6ft 4in, he would have dealt routinely with the free-kick that produced the goal. The stocky Omer Al-Abri, having left his line, failed to put a hand on the ball. But then the writing was on the wall when the teams lined up for the anthems, Senegal possessing several players of the stature of the watching Patrick Vieira while Oman had (to borrow a wonderfully self-mocking line from an Arsenal website) an embarrassment of titches.

A million tickets have been sold for the men's and women's football events, leaving the London Olympic committee to hope this morning's draw at Wembley will help generate the momentum to shift the remaining 1.5 million.

It will be a surprise if Coventry's 12 fixtures are not well attended, for few UK cities, if any, have embraced the Olympic ideal as fervently. Early in the Games, a giant metalwork steed representing Lady Godiva's horse, called Cyclopedia and built in Warwickshire, will be powered on its way to London by 100 cyclists.

It is not Wembley, the stage on which Great Britain played Bulgaria 41 years ago in a doomed quest to qualify for the 1972 Games, but a stadium that will be hosting League One football come August looks certain to be ready to raise the five-ringed flag.

Pot of gold: The draw

Gary Lineker will host the draw from Wembley at 11am. He will be assisted by the former Brazilian international Ronaldo and the England Women's all-time leading scorer, Kelly Smith, who will be drawing 16 teams from the pot for the men's competition and 12 for women. Great Britain's men's team are seeded, and will thus avoid Brazil, Spain and Mexico in the four groups of the tournament.

Men's teams Brazil, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Great Britain, Honduras, Japan, Korea Republic, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay.

TV: BBC 2

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