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Young, gifted, British . . .

V ARYING degrees of enthusiasm could be discerned across the country yesterday as Team GB discovered their group rivals in this summer's Olympic football competition.

Barry Bannan  is one of around a dozen Scots hoping to make the final cut.  Picture: SNS
Barry Bannan is one of around a dozen Scots hoping to make the final cut. Picture: SNS

But Barry Bannan and Kim Little were just two young Scots inclined to view the competition as an opportunity rather than a political minefield.

Although he would be reluctant to jeopardise his Scotland future in the process, Aston Villa midfielder Bannan, who is one of around a dozen Scots included on Stuart Pearce's 80-man long list for the event, told Herald Sport he would quite happily share a platform with the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey should he make the final cut of the best young players these islands have to offer as they take on Senegal, UAE and Uruguay.

Little, a stand-out performer for both Scotland and Arsenal, was last night looking forward to a meeting with Brazil, and a re-acquaintance with Marta, a five-time Fifa world player of the year. With other Scottish players such as Allan McGregor, James Forrest, Jordan Rhodes and Steven Fletcher all still in consideration – whether the SFA like it or not – the great Olympic football circus is here to stay.

In the men's event, three overage players are permitted among a generally under-23 group, which in Uruguay's case may well mean figures such as Liverpool's Luis Suarez, Napoli's Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan of Internazionale. Bannan would be keen to show that he belongs in that company.

"I am still in contention at the minute," Bannan told Herald Sport. "It will be interesting to see if I am still in contention when it gets cut down again. I haven't really read too much into whether Scotland will be happy about it or not, but from my point of view I can't see anything wrong with Scottish players playing in it. Obviously if it happens I would be playing with top-class players. If I am called up and am playing alongside the best players in England, Wales and Northern Ireland I can go out there and prove I deserve to be there alongside them."

Craig Levein is hardly likely to view participation from the home nations as ideal as Scotland have a friendly against Australia at Easter Road just days after the tournament, while Neil Lennon would be keen to keep hold of Forrest as the fixtures clash with Celtic's Champions League third-round qualifying ties, but Pearce made light of such factors.

"I am acutely aware that club managers have a duty of care to their individual clubs," said the caretaker England manager, who has exempted all England's Euro 2012 players from participating. "But once the tournament starts, excitement will be generated and people will see the greater good it will do for the individual players and the feelgood factor it brings. Plus we will be returning the players to their clubs before the season starts, so all they will be missing are pre-season friendlies."

Little, meanwhile, was simply relishing an Olympic Games match-up with Brazil, and also hoping for revenge on star player Marta, against whom she played for Arsenal Ladies against Swedish side Umea in the Uefa Cup earlier this season. The women's team kick off on July 25 against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium, before Cameroon in Cardiff three days later, then Brazil at Wembley on July 31.

Little, and her Arsenal club-mate Jenny Beattie, are among a number of Scots on the list of 50 from which manager Hope Powell will make her selection and, barring injury, the Scotland midfielder seems certain to be in the final 18. "It would definitely be a huge thrill to play against Brazil," admitted Little. "I've not played against Brazil before," said the 21-year-old. "I haven't played against Cameroon either, although we played against New Zealand for Scotland. I played against Marta for Arsenal against Umea. We beat them 3-2 at home in the first leg, but then she scored four goals in the return to knock us out."

Little has never made any secret of her desire to play in the Olympics. "It was exciting watching the draw," she said. "There is definitely a sense of excitement building up – you can see the coverage increasing in the media. It would have been nice for us to have played one of the games in Scotland, but other than that there is a lot to look forward to if I make the squad."

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