by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
With the men’s Team GB football squad being largely written off as realistic medal contenders it could be left to the women’s team, competing in an Olympics for the first time, to collect a medal. Women’s football was introduced into the Olympics in 1996, with the USA claiming the first gold on their home soil. The British women qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but unfortunately the politics between the home nation FAs proved too divisive to organise a squad.
The manager of Team GB is also the long-serving manager of the English team, Hope Powell, who recently completed her 150th match in charge. In 2003 she became the first woman to achieve UEFA’s Pro Licence. Such is her reputation that in 2009 there was brief speculation that she would become the first female manager of a male team when she was linked with the Grimsby managerial position.
The 2012 GB team is captained by England and Lincoln Ladies captain Casey Stoney, who is vastly experienced with 103 caps to her name. The squad largely consists of England players, with only two Scottish players, Ifeoma Dieke of Swedish team Vittsjo GIK and Kim Little of Arsenal, making the otherwise all English 18 player squad. Little is the youngest player in the squad and something of a star having already played 70 times for Scotland, some achievement for a 22 year old, and scoring 58 goals in 52 appearances for Arsenal. In 2010 she was voted player of the year after netting 47 times from midfield that season.
In the rest of the squad six players come from the domestically dominant Arsenal team, who won the inaugural Women’s Super League in 2011, with the star player perhaps being 33 year-old Kelly Smith who has scored 45 goals for England in 111 appearances. Smith has recently recovered from a broken leg but has been working hard to ensure she is fit for the tournament. The other Arsenal players are Ellen White, Rachel Yankey, Stephanie Houghton and Alex Scott.
Birmingham City Ladies, on the back of a successful year that saw them lifting the Woman’s FA Cup for the first time and finishing second in the WSL, supply three players, all of whom are forwards. They are Eniola Aluko, who was once described as the Wayne Rooney of the women’s game, Karen Carney, and Rachel Williams, the 2011 player of the season
Do the British women stand a chance? Their first game was a 3-1 win in an informal game behind closed doors against South Africa. This was followed by a 0-0 draw against Sweden, which was not a bad result as Sweden were third in the 2011 World Cup. In that tournament naturally the English side lost in the quarter-finals, despite beating eventual winners Japan in the group stages.
Team GB will play their first two opponents, New Zealand, and Cameroon, at the Cardiff Millennium stadium on the 25th and 28th July. The New Zealand game will be the first competitive event of the Olympics, taking place two days before the opening ceremony. They then move to Wembley to meet Beijing silver medalists Brazil, who, along with Japan and the USA, the World Cup holders and Olympic champions, respectively, are amongst the favourites. Brazil have been the runners-up to the USA at the last two Olympics and will be desperate to go one step further this time. Particular threats will be striker Cristiane, joint all-time top scorer at the Olympics alongside Germany’s Birgit Prinz with 10 goals, as well as five-times World Player of the Year Marta, who has a record of 80 goals in 72 appearances for the Brazil national side.
For New Zealand London 2012 represents a second Olympic Games and they are hoping to improve on their group stage exit in 2008. For the Cameroon side it is their first appearance in the Olympics and while coach Enow Ngachu has said he hopes to qualify from the group he also accepts that the experience and opportunity to raise the side’s profile back home will be enough reward.
The British women should qualify from their group and it might be worthwhile getting behind them. Who knows, we may see a group of homegrown players winning something.