Probably not too surprisingly under a British coach and with a young, athletic team that might not quite add up talent-wise with some of the best in the world, New Zealand under Tony Readings came out with a high-pressing, direct style that gave hosts Great Britain a lot of trouble at times in the Olympic opener. But as it was at the World Cup last year, the Ferns came up a little bit short, thanks to Stephanie Houghton’s free kick in the 64th minute. With eight teams out of 12 instead of eight of 16, New Zealand still has a decent chance to advance. Here’s what we learned:
1) We might have been watching the best two outside backs in the world right now
Not trying to start a fight, but with Ali Krieger out and no one else really stepping up too much, New Zealand’s Ali Riley and Britain’s Alex Scott were both fantastic in this game. Riley saved a couple of what looked like sure goals, while Scott got up and down the field at will. On the winning goal, it was Scott that drew the foul with a deft little chop that forced Amber Hearn to bring her down, and according to me, she was Woman of the Match. And my credentials are impeccable. In my own mind, at least.
2) Kelly Smith is not 100 percent, but she’ll give everything she has
You can tell she’s hobbled and Hope Powell has chosen to put Smith up top as a lone striker, which pretty much precludes them getting behind people (at least quickly), but the intent is to allow her to hold the ball up and find other people. It didn’t really work today, it must be said, we’ll see against a team like Brazil (not as organized) and Cameroon (fairly weak), whether it pays more dividends. Britain looked best when Jill Scott got into the attack, but that does leave them vulnerable at the back.
3) New Zealand is an interesting test case
And I say this with all due respect, you do what you can to win at the highest levels, but New Zealand basically appears to have a style from a bygone era (at least, a few years ago). But they have athletes, so it will be interesting to see how far it will take them. And I’ll keep an eye on them, it could have just been a one-game strategy. New Zealand-Brazil sets up to be very interesting.
Show up, people
I mentioned it in the U.S. recap, but you can’t sell out the first game of the Olympics with the host team playing. In Britain? Boo.