Gareth Southgate urges Team GB to treat Olympic football tournament seriously


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Gareth Southgate is urging Team GB's players to treat the Olympic football tournament as a major step in their careers.

Stuart Pearce's men's team will launch their Group A campaign against Senegal at Old Trafford on July 26 with high hopes of making an impact.

However Southgate, the Football Association's head of elite development, knows from experience how seriously other nations treat the competition.

He said: "Our guys face a disadvantage compared to a lot of the others sides as they will have been together a lot longer.

"Stuart has just got his players together, while teams like Brazil have played a series of friendly games already.

"There's a lot of ability in the squad. It's a shame to lose the likes of Gareth Bale, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to injury, as I think they would all have been key players, but it's still a good squad.

"The unknown is some of the other countries, though. They all take their junior international teams very seriously.

"I remember the Australian boys I played with at Middlesbrough - people like Mark Viduka and Luke Wilkshire - all played in Olympic tournaments and saw it as a big part of their progression.

"Lionel Messi made a big thing of making sure he was available for the last Olympics, and the top Brazilians are taking great pride in being involved this time.

"Because we have never been in it over here, I don't think we have realised the importance of the Olympic tournament."

Great Britain last fielded a team in the men's tournament at the Olympics in 1960, but will inevitably be installed among the favourites.

However, so too will Brazil, who are yet to win the tournament but will head into their final warm-up fixture against Pearce's men at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium next Friday evening with an impressively strong squad which includes Santos' rising star Neymar as well as Porto frontman Hulk and AC Milan's Alexandre Pato.

Asked about Neymar in particular, Southgate said: "He's special. I saw him play against Scotland at the Emirates when he scored the two goals and I've seen some brilliant goals he's scored back in Brazil.

"In years to come, we could be saying that we remember when he came across to Britain and we saw him at the Olympics - or at the Riverside. He could be up there with the Ronaldos and Ronaldinhos.

"There's speculation about him joining Barcelona, but Brazilian football is very strong on and off the pitch at present so a lot of their top players are staying there or going back there after playing abroad.

"Brazil are clearly taking this very seriously as the Olympics is not only the one major tournament they have never won, but they are preparing to host the next World Cup too.

"I think it grates with Brazil that Argentina have won it but they haven't.

"You only have to see the strength of their squad to know how much this means to them, with players like Neymar, Sandro, Lucas and Oscar all involved.

"Then, when you see the over-age players they have included (Hulk, Marcelo and Thiago Silva), it just makes them even stronger."

The GB women's team will also be in action at the Riverside as they face Sweden before the men take the field.

:: For the price of one ticket, fans can see the only warm-up matches that Team GB men's and women's teams will play before the Olympics on July 20. The event starts at 4pm when Hope Powell's women take on Sweden, and continues at 7.45pm when the men play Brazil. The remaining tickets are priced from £30 adults, £20 over-65s and £15 under-16s.