CARDIFF, Wales — If the sight of a unified Britain football team competing in its first Olympics since 1960 took football fans in the host nation by surprise, the manner of the its exit surely didn't.
Like so many England teams before it, the British side lost in a quarterfinal penalty shootout on Saturday night, meaning South Korea will advance to its first Olympic semifinal, where it will meet tournament favorite Brazil.
The defeat also signaled the last appearance for now of a unified British football team.
No one expects a "Team GB" will play in the games again, such is the opposition from football associations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which fear losing their place in global football. It only played this time because Britain is hosting the event.
Ki Sung-yueng scored the winning penalty after Daniel Sturridge missed the fifth spot kick for Britain, resulting in a 5-4 defeat. The score was 1-1 after regulation time, and neither team scored in 30 minutes of extra time.
Playing in front of 70,000 fans, South Korea's Ji Dong-won opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a long-range shot.
Aaron Ramsey equalized with a penalty six minutes later. He could have given Britain a 2-1 lead not long after when Britain was awarded another penalty, but his shot was saved.
Sturridge, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League and was one of the sharpest British players of the night, paused for a second in his run-up to his left-footed shot, then kicked the ball toward the right side of the goal. goalkeeper Lee Bum-young guessed correctly, diving to punch the ball away.
That left it up to Ki to give South Korea the victory. The forward, who plays for Celtic of the Scottish Premier League, shot powerfully into the top left hand corner of the net, and Britain's hopes of an Olympic medal in the sport it invented were over.
The football defeat was one of the sole disappointments on a super Saturday that saw the British team win six gold medals in athletics, rowing and track cycling.
"The first day we got together as a group we practiced penalties," said Britain's coach Stuart Pearce. "Daniel (Sturridge) got the winner three days ago that got us out of the group stages, and today he misses the penalty. You have days like that, but he will benefit from it if my experience is anything to go by."
Pearce was likely referring to the penalty he missed against Germany in the 1990 World Cup semifinal.
South Korean coach Hong Myung-bo said he knew English teams had problems with penalty shootouts and hence had a "strong belief" his team would prevail.
"The only thing that I told them was to keep calm and kick the ball with confidence," he said. "I asked the players to make it very difficult for (Britain) to play its own game."
For the English players on Britain's unified squad — and coach Pearce — going out of a major competition on penalties shouldn't be a surprise. England's penalty record stands at six defeats and one victory from seven shoot-outs at major tournaments, including a quarterfinal exit last June from the European Championships.
Men's Olympic football is an under-23 competition, but each team is allowed three senior players. The British team had just three weeks of training together before the games began. Many players had come direct from a long domestic season, that will now begin again later this month.Comment on this story
"The Korean lads had, I think, played 18 games unbeaten, so that's the sort of preparation they've had compared to our preparation," said Manchester United star Ryan Giggs, who scored in the shootout. "We've got better each game, but it was a bit difficult for us today."
The British men and women, who were knocked out Friday by Canada, played to packed stadiums throughout the tournament, but their progress got little attention in the British media, which has never paid much attention to Olympic football.
"It was nice to a part of everything, going into the Olympic village, meeting other athletes," said Craig Bellamy, a Welshman who captained the British team for its last two games.
"To have a played a tiny part of that makes me proud. I'd have liked a medal, of course I would, but you can't get everything you want."