Olympic Recap: Great Britain vs. New Zealand

by Eleri Earnshaw

First half

Team Great Britain manager Hope Powell has largely stuck with the familiar in selecting her Team GB squad. Only two of the 18-strong squad are non-English: defender Ifeoma Dieke and midfielder Kim Little, both starting today, the Scottish representation for Team GB.

The significance of this match for Powell and her squad is obvious and her pre-game thoughts were mirrored in her team’s performance. “It’s our first time as Team Great Britain and you will be nervous, but I’m sure they will rise to the occasion.”

Team GB certainly had a nervy start to the game, not having a quality spell of possession until 15-20 minutes in. Ali Riley made an immediate impression for New Zealand and looked dangerous from the get-go on the left flank, getting forward at every opportunity and delivering some tempting balls into the box.

GB climbed into this contest by simplifying their game and making quicker, more intelligent decisions on the ball. They dominated the last 30 minutes of the first half as they made a commitment to get numbers forward. Alex Scott in particular looked dangerous from her familiar right back position as she so often does.

The best chances of the half fell to Anita Asante who after being booked in the 3rd minute, got on the end of three consecutive deliveries into the New Zealand penalty area but could not capitalize on any of the three free headers. Her intent and willingness to get forward, served as inspiration for her teammates and that set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Kelly Smith, returning to form from injury, not having much impact in the first half. She found herself having to drop very deep to find the ball. Not very effective paying as a lone striker, but Eniola Aluko to her left provided some attacking threat every time she got the ball.

NZ looked very reactive as the halftime break neared.

GB was the dominant side as they entered halftime. Ever wiling to work both ways, working hard defensively and getting involved in the attack.

Second half

Great Britain re-established their authority after another 10-minute spell of nervy soccer.

A great chance wasted by Team GB as substitute Ellen White took too long to get her shot off. Alex Scott still getting high and pinning Riley, NZ only real danger thus far, back deep in her own half.

The breakthrough for GB came in 64th minute as Amber Hearn’s wreckless challenge on Alex Scott awarded a free kick at the top of the box for GB.

Stephanie Houghton stepped up to the ball and put away a well-placed free kick that went in between the wall and the runner, into the lower right hand corner of the goal.

After the goal, there was a new sense of urgency from NZ as they approached the last 15 minutes of play.

Sarah Gregorius had the chance of the match as a collision between two GB defenders set her on a breakaway which was handled easily by GB goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.

Both halves started with NZ on top before Team GB took control and asserted itself on the game. Fortunately for the home team, they were able to finish one of many chances in the second half.

Perhaps not the most consistent 90 minutes of soccer from Team GB, but a win is a win. If they continue to build form today’s performance, establish a confidence and rhythm earlier in the next game, they may peak at just the right time.

Player of the Match: Anita Asante
Highlights

Eleri Earnshaw is a former Welsh National Team player who went through the system from U-14 to the Full team. She played college soccer at Long Island University from 2008-2010 where she earned a degree in Biology and masters in Exercise Physiology. She is currently the head coach of the U14 and U18 SoccerPlus ECNL teams as well as an assistant at Central Connecticut State University and a Sports Performance Coach at ASTC.

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