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3 games in, Britain's Craig Bellamy shines at Olympics; few missing David Beckham

08/02/2012 09:36 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
CARDIFF, Wales - Craig Bellamy is certainly no David Beckham. For Britain's Olympic football team, perhaps that's a good thing.

Britain coach Stuart Pearce caused an uproar when he left Beckham off the team for the London Olympics, opting to go with fellow midfielder Bellamy as one of his three overage players instead — alongside Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs and defender Micah Richards.

But with Bellamy having been perhaps the team's best player so far in its three group games, few are missing "Becks" anymore.

"It is brilliant to be part of the Olympics," the 33-year-old Bellamy said ahead of the team's quarterfinal on Saturday. "I am enjoying everything about it — wearing the kit, having the accreditation around my neck."

Aside from sharing a fondness of tattoos, Bellamy's image could hardly be any more different from Beckham — who has been the poster boy of English football for the last decade and is a fashion icon around the world. Bellamy is more known for his combative style both on and off the pitch. He has clashed with both teammates and opponents in the past, and was arrested on suspicion of assault last year — but was not convicted.

Beckham was also seen as a key member of the team that successfully bid for the Olympics and many fans wanted him to be rewarded with a spot in the team. But Pearce made his team selection purely based on football reasons — ignoring the fact that Beckham's presence would also have garnered more support for the team and helped with ticket sales.

This is the first unified British team to play in the Olympics since 1960, and there had been fears of a lukewarm reception. But the team has played to full stadiums, and its good results seem to have won over most skeptics.

And Bellamy has been key to team's success.

Bellamy, who has moved between clubs several times in the last 10 years and is currently in his second stint for Liverpool, scored Britain's first goal of the Olympics in the team's opening 1-1 draw against Senegal. He then assisted on two of the goals in the team's 3-1 victory over the United Arab Emirates.

On Wednesday in his hometown of Cardiff, he captained the side in the absence of 38-year-old Giggs, who was rested for the match. He had played for — and captained — Wales on the same pitch in many of his more than 50 appearances for his country.

As usual, Bellamy used his pace and passing ability to set up teammates for good chances and troubled defenders with his marauding runs. When he was taken off after 70 minutes, he was given a massive roar by the 70,000 fans at Millennium Stadium.

Having always been a controversial figure, feeling such undivided support is a new experience for Bellamy.

"When I play football, it is difficult sometimes, the abuse you can receive," he said. "You have to learn to carry broad shoulders. But this has been refreshing. People have been so positive and it has been a pleasure to be involved in."

Giggs and Bellamy are both playing in their first major international tournament, and have helped fans buy into the idea of a unified team. The Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish football associations didn't support the team because they feared it might threaten their independent positions in global football.

Pearce said the vast experience Bellamy and Giggs bring to the team is key to Britain's chances of getting a medal.

"The fellow sat next to me, I don't want to embarrass him, he's as good a professional ... that I have seen or played with," Pearce said when sitting alongside Bellamy earlier this week.

Bellamy is sticking true to his Welsh colours though. Ahead of Saturday's quarterfinal against South Korea, he refused to get caught up in talk about possible medals.

"That's you English, that is what you lot do," Bellamy joked. "I'm Welsh and just grateful to be involved."

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