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Lee Power, at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Team GB 1 New Zealand 0
From their own little corners of London to the biggest stage in sport, Alex Scott and Casey Stoney got to make Olympic history today.
Named in the starting XI for the Great Britain women’s football team, for their first-ever match in a Games, the duo were able to complete a journey from grass-roots to global exposure.
And Scott, from Tower Hamlets, and captain Stoney, who represented Merton at the annual London Youth Games during her formative years, helped GB overcome a nervous start against New Zealand’s Football Ferns at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as the London 2012 Olympics got underway, unofficially.
Although the opening ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic flame in Stratford – approximately 159 miles away to the east – might still be 48 hours away, an excited crowd got into the spirit of the Games in sunny Wales.
Basildon-born Stoney, who was signed by Chelsea at the age of 12, had to make an important tackle on the dangerous Sarah Gregorious, who had put New Zealand ahead against England at last year’s World Cup, with the game only seven minutes old.
And that was after Arsenal’s Steph Houghton had done just enough to put Amber Hearn off her header.
But finally, as their big-match nerves began to fade away and the home crowd launched into cheers of “GB” (clap, clap, clap), Hope Powell’s side began to dominate.
Powell, originally from Lewisham and a member of the Millwall Lionesses and Croydon during her own playing days, saw Eniola Aluko’s drive in a crowded box well parried by keeper Jenny Bindon, before Scott – always looking to get forward in her red headband – collected a pass from Arsenal team-mate Kelly Smith and pulled a shot across the face of goal and wide of the far post.
Anita Asante went closer, heading Aluko’s cross against the upright and then nodding wide from Smith’s inswinging corner, before Scott – who recently launched her own academy for young female footballers in partnership with Kingston College – ran onto another Smith pass and sent her right-footed shot curling wide.
Stoney, a steadying influence at the heart of defence, no doubt had some encouraging words for her team during the break, having seen them enjoy 58 per cent possession and force seven corners.
Ellen White became the fifth Arsenal player to join the action as she replaced club-mate Kim Little during the break.
And Scott, spotted by Arsenal when just eight-years-old, kept getting into advanced positions on the right-hand side, now basked in shade rather than the hot sun she had endured in the opening 45 minutes.
Scott saw a shot deflected behind just before the hour and White was similarly foiled minutes later, from Smith’s fine through ball, before Scott was chopped down in a central position, some 25 yards from goal.
And it proved a pivotal moment as Houghton stepped up to send a superb shot into the bottom left corner and give GB the lead and their first-ever Olympic goal.
The roof, had it been closed, might have been lifted off by the cheers of the partisan home crowd.
Yankey, holder of a record 119 caps for England and former LYG competitor for Brent as a youngster, was sent on for Smith with 20 minutes remaining, but there was a scare soon after as Scott collided with Ifeoma Dieke, gifting Gregorious a shooting chance.
Keeper Karen Bardsley saved the day with a smothering stop and a back-pedalling Bardsley tipped over Amber Hearn’s 20-yard effort with six minutes left, before Fara Williams (Greenwich) made a late appearance off the bench to leave Orpington’s Claire Rafferty hoping to play her part at a later stage.
Scott was left limping in injury time as GB held on to ensure the London Games would begin on a winning note with women’s football, banned by the FA in 1922, taking its moment to shine with Londoners in the thick of the action.
Onwards to Manchester.
GB: Bardsley, A Scott, Houghton, J Scott, Stoney, Carney (Williams 89), Smith (Yankey 69), Little (White 46), Dieke, Asante, Aluko.