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Better Know Your Olympic Enemies, Part 4: Great Britain

We got the Canadians! We got the Canadians! 
CREDIT: Julian Finney/Getty Images
We got the Canadians! We got the Canadians! CREDIT: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Getty Images

Britain! The home team -- the birthplace of high tea, the Beatles and football as we know it (sorry China, cuju is not modern football), and entering the Olympic women's football tournament for the first time ever, thanks to a historical anomaly that has allowed Britain's four Home Nations to compete separately within FIFA, but not under the auspices of the IOC.

It was only because London won the 2012 Olympics, that Team GB was born -- mostly out of a desire not to waste the berth automatically granted to the hosts. The Welsh, the Northern Irish and the Scots were more hesitant than the English FA to get involved, and have waffled in the past few years over this issue. Some have outright turned down the offer (some may have been coerced into saying no), while others like Scotland's Kim Little have gleefully jumped on, threats to the status quo be damned.

In light of this, English players (whose team currently ranks ninth in the world) dominate this squad -- and so far, they haven't done too badly; sweeping all three games in their Group E campaign, capping that off with a 1-0 win over Brazil on Tuesday, in front of a boisterous 70,000-plus crowd at Wembley Stadium in London. For a team that wasn't expected to do well, they've come quite far.

As mentioned, this team is mostly English, but have a few tinges of Scotland here and there. The back line is led by captain Casey Stoney, who is in her first major tournament as captain; and she is currently leading an all-English defensive corps, after injuries cost GB the services of Iffy Dieke (a Scot). But worry not, as the twin threat of Steph Houghton and Alex Scott have proven more than capable of taking over, and securing the fort.

The British middle is a bit thin, the team only nominating four in their eighteen person roster. This area will be led by Jill Scott and Anita Asante, who held their own against a powerful Brazilian attack. The more experienced Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey are available off the bench if necessary.

Up front, Team GB has a wealth of talent: the lone Scotswoman Kim Little (her fellow Scot Dieke has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament, leaving her the only non-English player remaining) leads an attack that also includes Eniola Aluko and Kelly Smith, both of whom are known stateside during the WPS years. However, despite this firepower, so far this tournament the forwards have yet to notch a single goal, something that could prove comforting to Canada's beleaguered defense.

The team is slightly younger than the Canadians, with about nine players over the age of 25. Canada has 10, but in terms of experience Canada leads with five players with 100 or more caps, compared to England's three. On paper it does look as though Canada has an edge in terms of experience, and that is something Canada can and should exploit.

Like Canada, the British play the English style -- and so far have proven to be very good at it, and so far haven't conceded a goal in the process. But unlike Canada, GB have only faced the likes of Marta and the Brazilians, as opposed to both the Swedes and the world champion Japanese. This should turn into a hard slog for both sides, and it could end up being a battle of attrition, where the first goal could prove to be the winner.

Canada, for their part, must keep up the standard of play they set against Sweden earlier this week -- they must once again keep possession, and win the ball duels to keep the English at bay. The forwards must be on, and ready to pass to keep the ball forward. In other words, they just simply have to keep the same game plan as they did against the Swedes, keeping pressure with a large amount of possession, and to score as early and often as possible against a relatively young squad.

This is, to borrow the old sports cliche, a win-or-go-home game: win and it's a semifinal date with (either) the USA (or New Zealand); lose and it's another heartbreaking disappointment. Which will it be? If Canada can play like they did against Sweden, they have a great chance to send the home fans to the pub crying in their pints.