The glitz and glamour of the opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics is still two days away but try telling that to the two sets of women representing Great Britain and New Zealand in the football tournament.
Just one look at the faces on the footballers’ faces would be enough to confirm the passion and the absolute pride in taking part in the opening game of the Olympics. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff may have seemed like a strange place to start a major games, especially with Team GB being comprised of a virtually English team with a couple of Scottish players thrown into the mix for good measure and balance. However, even if the crowd was not as full as it would have been for some of the famous games that have taken place in the Welsh capital, there was no denying that it provided an excellent venue to kick off London 2012.
There is a history between the two countries, Team GB Coach Hope Powell had already suggested that the New Zealand team were a bit physical but the first yellow card of the tournament was shown to Anita Asante for a particularly cynical raking tackle. It served to galvanise the women from down under to put early pressure on the Team GB defence.
In the pre-tournament friendly Team GB put up a much better account of themselves against Sweden than their male counterparts did in their match against Brazil but for quite a while in this game it looked as though Hope Powell’s team might struggle. The sense of the occasion looked to have claimed a huge scalp in the opening game as the women who made up Team GB looked nervous, ragged and with the type of passing that you would more normally expect from youth football, not from seasoned internationals.
The first real sense that the team gave of what they could be capable of was from Kim Little’s corner which fell to the impressive figure of Casey Stone, her pass back in eluded all and eventually Aluko’s long range shot drifted wide. If nothing else this skirmish at least lifted the crowd and gave them something to shout about.
As the half wore on, it was becoming acutely aware that a good start in this group was to be vital, with Cameroon and the might of Brazil waiting in the next two matches, a draw for Team GB would more than likely not be enough to take the spirited women’s team through.
Women’s football may exist in a very long shadow to the men’s game in the four home countries that make up the U.K. It certainly doesn’t get the coverage it sometimes deserves but Hope Powell, no stranger to dealing with footballing inequality, has made a team in her own image, resolute and determined and one that when something goes right, it’s hard not to cheer loudly in appreciation. What price it seemed to have the towering figure of Ex-England captain Faye White on the pitch at this point.
The first half ended in a stalemate with neither team capitalising on the fleeting chances that came their way. Cometh the hour cometh the woman, a free kick outside of the New Zealand box was curled in with incredible accuracy by the superb Steph Houghton. It was a goal that lit up the game and gave the Olympics the boost it needed. How many times have audiences watched big tournaments with huge expectations only to see a drab nil all draw take place before their eyes. Not this tournament and not when you have the quality of someone like Houghton at your disposal. History was made by the Arsenal player as she became the first British woman to score in the Olympics and an excellent strike it was, firm and with power, it was a goal made in Heaven.
Sporting calamity nearly befell Team GB not long after as a mix up in the box between Stoney and Dieke collided to present Gregorius with a huge chance to equalize for the Black Ferns. Blushes and recriminations were spared as the shot was weak and ineffectual and was easily and gratefully saved by Karen Bardsley.
In the end the New Zealand team didn’t have enough, no matter their bluster and work rate in the end it all boiled to one sensational free kick and a coach who has drilled her team well. Team GB would sit on top of their group for a short while but in the end it the result went to prove that football is a women’s game as well.
Team GB: Bardsley, Scott, Stoney, Dieke, Houghton, Carney, Asante, Little, Smith, Aluko, Little.
Subs used: White, Yankey, Williams
Coach: Hope Powell
New Zealand: Bindon; Percival, Smith, Erceg, Riley, Moorwood, Hoyle, Yallop, Wilkinson, Hearn, Gregorius
Subs used: Hassett, Longo,
Player of the match: Steph Houghton (Team GB)
Referee: K. Seitz (U.S.A)
Final Score: Team GB 1 New Zealand 0
Ian D. Hall