Hege Riise has delivered the moment that many football fans across the nation have been waiting for. The squad selected to represent Team GB at this year’s Tokyo Olympics has been finalised.
Of the 18-player squad, 83% are English, with only Caroline Weir, Kim Little and Sophie Ingle flying the flag for Scotland and Wales respectively. Amongst the star-studded team, a whopping 11 players have been picked out from Manchester City – one player being captain Steph Houghton.
The skipper, who also captains the Lionesses, has been out of action for the last few weeks due to an Achilles injury picked up during the domestic season. Fortunately for Houghton, and indeed Team GB, she has made her recovery just in nick of time.
“I was so desperate to get selected for this one, not just for me but the rest of the team – we’re so proud to be able to represent Team GB,” the 33-year-old said. “With the success of the last Olympics – in terms of women’s football and how it was probably a watershed moment in so many different ways, in terms of how many fans came to watch us, the performances that we produced – everybody’s so excited to get to Tokyo to go and do something special.”
Indeed, a lot of buzz has been circling the long-awaited reveal of Riise’s Tokyo squad. Great Britain will field an Olympic women’s football team for the first time since 2012, when the Games took place on home soil. Since then, England and Scotland have competed in the World Cup, with the Lionesses reaching the semi-finals, but falling to the USA in an agonising 2-1 defeat.
When it comes to international players, Houghton is up there as one of the most experienced for her country. As an England centurion with a World Cup bronze medal and SheBelieves title to boot, there’s not many better equipped to take on the role as leader on the pitch this summer.
“If I look back to 2012, I think we performed really well in the group stages and I look back at the game against Canada in the quarter-final back then and I know that it wasn’t the best version of us as a team,” Houghton admitted. Canada were the team to knock Team GB out of the tournament in London. They will be facing Bev Priestman – a former Lioness coach – and her side in the group stages in Tokyo this year.
“I look at the squad and the individuals that we have and the mix of not just English players but Scottish and Welsh players. I think it’s a squad full of quality, people that individually have played in big games – whether that’s a Champions League final or the highest games at the World Cup for their country.
“It really excites us the talent that we have and I think we’ve got the perfect blend of youth and experience. For us, our expectation is always to go and win as many games as we possibly can and that doesn’t change whether I’m sitting here wearing a Team GB shirt or an England shirt.”
Houghton went on to discuss the younger players who have been called up as reserve players for Team GB. Sandy MacIver, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Niamh Charles and Ella Toone will all be on standby should they need to be called upon during the tournament. The Man City star admitted she empathises with their excitement and reflected back on her own emotions during her first Olympics nine years ago.
“I’m so excited to see how they’ll react being in that environment because the feelings that we got in 2012, it’s such a surreal feeling to be part of something that we’ve all probably watched since we’ve been kids and we’ve never expected to be a part of. I’m just so excited for them to experience what we have and for the likes of me, Jill, Ellen, KB and Kim, to go and experience that again we feel so fortunate and proud that we can do it.”
Her recovery from the Achilles damage that had her sidelined for more than a month has been a blessing and Houghton herself stated it “wasn’t like me” to miss so much game time. Fortunately, she is “100% fit” ahead of the flight out to Japan and she’s prepared to give this her all.