Bring on the Germans, says Stone
Michael Stone says the Team GB Open Football squad will approach the Maccabiah Games in confident mood after being paired in the same group as Germany.
The draw for several sports was made in Israel this week and the blue riband event sees 2009 runners-up GB also up against fellow seeds South Africa, Colombia and Peru in the only five-team group in the competition.
Head coach Stone, formerly of Spurs and Barnet, has been researching GB’s opponents, with manager David Pollock and assistant-coach Darren Yarlett. He said: "There are some positives and negatives. The fact that we’re in the biggest group gives us a cushion if one of the results doesn’t go our way. But that extra game will put extra demands on the players physically, with little recovery time between games.
"The likelihood is that we’ll be playing seven games over the best part of 10 days. It will certainly mean the squad will be tested in terms of depth – both quality-wise and fitness-wise."
Beaten on penalties by Argentina in the final four years ago, GB are the second seeds, based largely on their progress over recent Maccabiot.
Most of Pollock’s players come from London Lions who recently won the Spartan South Midlands League Division One and Stone believes this will give them an advantage.
He said: "A lot of them come on the back of a very demanding season, but more importantly, they bring with them a winning mentality. We have a very tight-knit changing room and many of the squad are experienced at this level. They know what to expect."
GB are current European champions after winning gold in Vienna two years ago, where they beat Germany 4-0.
"We know we’re taken a lot more seriously these days," said Stone. "Now it’s a case of taking it through to the next level.
"The Germans are always strong, hard to beat and hard to break down. They have the nucleus of a good side."
But Stone believes South Africa will pose the biggest threat in the group phase. "I remember playing them in a playoff a few years ago," he said. "They always have some talented players and will be tricky opponents.
"I believe they even approached Dean Furman with a view to joining the squad and that speaks volumes about their ambitions.
"Colombia and Peru will also be dangerous as they are something an unknown quantity.
"There are no weak sides in the competition and the standard has improved. We certainly won’t be taking any team lightly.
"We want to qualify in first place, first and foremost, and the main focus will be on ourselves. We will get our preparations spot on.
"Our aim is gold and there is a case of unfinished business for many of the boys. For some of them, it will be their last chance in the Open squad."
GB will train three times a week. They plan to play two friendlies before flying to Israel and will go on a training camp in Reading this weekend.
It is clear the GB camp is keen to exorcise the demons of the 2009 final. "Penalties are certainly on the agenda in training," said Stone.
"We have a good coaching team, including a sports psychologist, and we’ll be focusing on the shootout scenario as part of our preparations."