Olympics: Great Britain 1 - 0 New Zealand: Winning start for GB history makers
COACH Hope Powell hailed her “history makers” after Great Britain launched their Olympic campaign with a 1-0 win over New Zealand in Cardiff.
Steph Houghton scored the only goal, curling home a superb 65th-minute free-kick which, given the nature of the 12-team competition, is almost enough to secure a quarter-final berth.
However, as the very first match GB have played in women’s football, and the first event of the entire Olympics, Powell knows GB have made a statement that can never be erased.
“The girls have made history,” said Powell. “It has been mentioned so much we couldn’t ignore it. We were the first women’s GB team and we won. That will never change now. We wanted to enjoy the experience.
“We recognised it was the first event and that it was an opportunity for the girls to showcase their talent.
“I wanted them to embrace it and have a go. As it happens, we did all right.”
Despite the Football Association’s pre-match claim that in excess of 31,000 tickets had been sold, the official attendance of 24,549 meant that it wasn’t the UK record for a women’s international the game had been billed as.
Nevertheless, Powell and her players, including the two Scots who started, striker Kim Little, of Arsenal, and defender Ifeoma Dieke, who plays in Sweden, have been impressed by the entire Olympic experience so far. “It was a great crowd,” added Powell. “It is nice to come to a big stadium. That inspires the girls to do well.”
GB will hope to enjoy a similar experience when they take on Cameroon in the same stadium on Thursday. After a nervous opening, GB blew a succession of chances before Houghton stepped up for her big moment.
It was some kind of redemption for the Durham-born defender, who has twice missed out on major tournaments because of injury.
“She has been really unlucky,” said Powell.
“She suffered major injuries before the World Cup in 2007 and the Euros in 2009.
“She has worked really hard to get back into condition and is now one of the fittest players in the squad. Scoring was a great honour for her.”
Powell claimed Houghton was “in shock” as the ball went in, an assessment the 24-year-old did not dispute.
“It is almost impossible to put into words,” she said.
“I knew I had struck it well and when I picked my head up it was in the back of the net.
“I didn’t really know what to do with my celebration. I was trying to head towards the bench but I got tired and tried to slow down because it was so hot.
“It was a really special moment for me, the best of my career without a doubt.”
At the start, the enormity of the occasion seemed to seep through, though, and, for 15 minutes, Team GB found themselves on the back foot.
That opening spell was halfway through before Powell’s side managed their first effort on goal, a curling Houghton free-kick which was pushed away by Jenny Bindon.
It was a foretaste of what was to come.
It was also the trigger for a more cohesive attacking display, with the supporters – swamped by the sheer size of the arena – right behind their team for all the debate about whether there should actually be a GB presence on the football pitch at these Games.
But the school-age fans will have cared little for the politics. And, with Arsenal full-back Alex Scott starting to make her presence felt with regular forays forward from right-back, Great Britain began to get on top.
Scott failed to make the most of a decent chance after she had skipped into the box and Anita Asante was also off target with a couple of headers.
Asante went closest to breaking the deadlock with a move that took place almost in slow motion as Eniola Aluko, sister of former Aberdeen and Rangers forward Sone, put over a cross to the far post.
There seemed little conviction in Asante’s header but it struck the post.
Great Britain continued to create chances following the introduction of Ellen White at half-time.
Jill Scott seemed to duck under Houghton’s cross as Bindon somehow pushed it behind, then Scott had a goalbound effort blocked by Ali Riley.
When White lacked the pace to race away from the New Zealand defence, allowing Riley to block, it added to the hosts’ frustrations and brought a fear their superiority was not going to be rewarded.
To the crowd’s delight, however, in the 64th minute Houghton kept her nerve with a 25-yard free-kick she curled expertly into the bottom corner.
The cheers of delight were almost equalled by those of relief when a ridiculous mix-up between Scott and Dieke sent Sarah Gregorious clean through.
Gregorious panicked though, and rolled a pitiful attempt straight to Karen Bardsley. The Linkoping goalkeeper was called on again nine minutes from time, when she tipped an Amber Hearn shot over.
GB were not to be denied though as they secured the win.
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