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Za-heartbreak for Crystal Palace’s Wilf but Team GB the real losers

The omission of a right-sided midfielder was always going to overshadow Stuart Pearce’s Olympic football squad announcement and it almost did had the journalists not earlier filled their columns with their Beckham thoughts during a football-free day of Euro 2012. Less notable on Pearce’s list was Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, the exciting 19 year old who had lit up the Eagles’ hit and miss season.

A raw talent; Dougie Freedman’s rough diamond, Zaha could have made a great impact in an otherwise forgettable and unimportant football tournament. Understandably, Pearce has chosen higher profile players; each of whom provides vaster youth and full international experience, yet in Zaha Pearce could have had a dangerous wildcard.

Of Team GB’s attacking options selected ahead of Palace’s starlet were Scott Sinclair, Daniel Sturridge and Marvin Sordell as well as the imperious Ryan Giggs, one of the overage players in the squad. Here we can virtually see who will start each match and where their strongest position will be. In these four players, Pearce has a varied squad consisting of a wrath of different talents and positional options.

“I’ve got a list of names written down now, who I think ability-wise are good enough to do a job. I didn’t pick on personality, I didn’t pick on ticket sales and I certainly wasn’t picking on nationality,” Pearce said after the squad announcement.

It’d be ludicrous to bemoan Pearce’s selection (I mean, he’s Psycho after all) having such circumstances to contend with and whittling a talent pool the size of four independent footballing nations down to just 18 takes no one short of the mark. Let’s not forget though that Wilfried made the final squad prior to the last stage of trimming and deserves someone to back his claim.

Especially as a player of similar ability in Marvin Sordell managed to escape Pearce’s squad slicing scissors. Having scored more Championship goals than Zaha over the past few seasons with Watford, Sordell sealed a move to the Premiership with Bolton in January. However, Sordell has yet to find his feet at the Reebok Stadium, playing just three times since.

Although Zaha can play through the middle, Dougie Freedman has preferred him on the flank, dazzling defenders with his sublime skills and scoring the odd goal. Despite such a poor goal ratio, Zaha still provides an attacking threat that has made the Premier League take notice considering the defensive, depleted squad Palace have fielded over the past two seasons. He won’t be putting in performances to attract the likes of FC Barca for a while yet, but Pearce in truth had nothing to lose by including the youngster.

Zaha shone during Palace’s run to the Carling Cup semi-finals last season too; impressing at Old Trafford in the 2-1 win over then Champions Manchester United, where he had Brazilian full-back Rafael in all sorts of trouble. He then whipped Cardiff into frenzy, resulting in some pretty harsh challenges which took the edge from his and Palace’s game during the second leg of the semi-final.

And since his inception into the first team squad at Selhurst Park, Zaha has improved dramatically and has drawn praise from manager and team mates alike.

“He wants to get better and you can see him maturing as a team mate and as a mate,” Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak said earlier in the season.

Arguably Sordell is a more natural goal scorer and has the physical presence Zaha still lacks. On the big occasion however, Zaha has proven his ability and is more of a thrill to watch whilst he waltzes by static defenders.

Perhaps Sturridge and Sinclair gave Pearce enough confidence on the right to omit Zaha, yet his inclusion even as a wildcard could have benefitted Team GB, much like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did for England. But Zaha’s time will surely come and he believes that; tweeting ‘Gutted but just got to look forward to the future…’ just after the announcement was made.


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