It’s time for me to apologise, to retract a previous statement. Ladies football ain’t half bad, to be honest.
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games began today, although none of the action was in host city London. Instead, it was spread out between three different nations as women’s football kicked off the event two days before the opening ceremony. As I mentioned last week after Team GB’s warm-up friendly against Sweden, I wasn’t taken by the quality of football in the female game and worried that the forthcoming championships would fail to raise the profile of the unpopular sport.
That attitude changed almost instantly within 15 minutes of Britain kicking off their campaign against New Zealand. My fears didn’t subside at first; the largely English side were pegged back again and again, but they eventually started to dominate the match, a position they rarely looked like relinquishing. Unfortunately, for all the improvement in passing and the ability to retain possession, they still never looked like scoring in the first half. This was epitomised by Anita Asante, the GB midfielder who three times found herself in a scoring position, only to head the ball wide. Her enthusiasm for getting forward at setpieces was praised, but surely someone with such a chequered history when it comes to scoring shouldn’t bother herself with trying to get the glory. Give to someone who knows where the net is.
Step forward Steph Houghton. The full-back had already come close with one free kick when she was awarded another on the edge of New Zealand’s area after a needless tackle. This time, she struck it ever so sweetly, making history by being Great Britain’s first ever female scorer at an Olympics, and the first one at all at these Games. It was well deserved for someone who keeps missing out on tournaments through injury and hopefully she’ll stay fit enough to do more wonders like that throughout the competition.
Unfortunately, the quality began to peter out in the last 10 minutes, with Britain returning to their old, tired ways of not being able to thread three consecutive passes together. The Kiwis were almost gifted a goal when Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke collided, allowing Sarah Gregorius an easy shot on goal. Fortunately, it was tame and Karen Bardsley was easily able to collect. So, while I have still have doubts and niggles about Team GB’s talent, it was a strong win against a resilient side and we need to take heart in the likelihood of reaching the quarter-finals. It should be said, however, that our girls need more than bravery if they’re going to threaten a Brazilian side that thrashed Cameroon 5-0.
Tomorrow sees the men’s competition kick off with Honduras vs Morocco at Hampden Park. More importantly, though, is that Great Britain play their first competitive game at 8pm against Senegal. Despite being a very new group of players, I fancy them to win against a side that had to win a playoff against Oman to qualify. With Uruguay waiting, we need to get off to a strong start and our forwards need to be attacking on all cylinders. I expressed my fears about the centre-back partnership of James Tomkins and Micah Richards, but they just need time to gel. To really get the nation behind them, the likes of Sturridge and Bellamy need to grab a couple of goals against the Africans.
I was disappointed to hear today that Gareth Bale has quickly regained his fitness and scored a pre-season goal for Tottenham Hotspur. The Welshman would have been a massive boost for Team GB and it remains to be seen how injured he really was. Hopefully, compatriot Aaron Ramsey will get more game time tomorrow, possibly in place of the so-so Tom Cleverley, with the possible outcome of an entirely Welsh midfield. Never thought I’d say that, but there you go, Wales do have some talent.