The first point to make is this: women’s football is not men’s football. So to compare the two is a mistake. Women are not trying to beat men. They are not competing against men. They are competing against each other, like for like. That is why it is right to eulogise the match last night between GB and Brazil at the Olympics.
As a spectacle the game was absorbing, enthralling even. Two well-matched sides observing the traditional football conventions associated with skill and pace. The Brazilian centre forward Thias Guedes Duarte was every bit as exotic as her male counterpart, Neymar. Again don’t fall into the trap of comparing the two like for like. Let the girl breathe, enjoy her velvet touch, the turning circle of a housefly, her appetite for possession and her courage on the ball.
At the back the Brazilian defenders were veritable hatchet women, fierce in the tackle, uncompromising around their own goal and downright brutal when there was no legal means open to them. They would not keep Lucas out of the Brazilian side but that is not the issue.
What the women’s game does challenge is the lexicon of football writing. Is there such a word as taliswoman? If there is Kelly Smith is it. The missed penalty was unfortunate but what a game she brings to the pitch, full of vision, passing and pace. In a number of examples the GB women’s team could call upon the kind of player the male counterparts cannot. Smith would be one, a kind of blonde Mesut Ozil, an inside forward to treasure.
Behind her the diminutive Scottish dynamo Kim Little bossed her personal space like Paul Scholes in his pomp, a player with a highly developed instinct for doing the right thing and never appearing rushed. A magnetic first touch helps, as does a competitive spirit that refuses to buckle no matter what the demand.
The only goal of the game was a masterpiece of movement and touch, and for a left back, a mighty finish off the right foot from an oblique angle. It was Steph Houghton’s third goal of a competition that is fast growing in stature. I am no fan of the men playing Olympic football. This is not inverted sexism. It is about being tested at the highest level to determine where supremacy lies.
The elite arena in the men’s game is elsewhere, in World Cups and European Championships and the Champions League. For the women’s game, the Olympic setting is legitimate since the players contesting it are the very same as those who line-up in World Cups. For them it is a challenge at the pinnacle of the game, which gives us the best team at the end of the process.
The action was further legitimised by a crowd of 70,000, a record for a women’s game in this country and a fantastic tribute to the quality of the football on show. For sport to endure supporters need to believe in what they are seeing, they need to care about the outcomes. From the evidence presented at Wembley a lot of people are starting to care about the women’s game in this country.
And for this observer, the product was just the kind uplifting experience we see too little of from our men. Are you watching Roy?