To Hope Powell's Great Britain team falls the honour of getting the ball rolling in the 2012 Olympics; literally, since this is the women's football tournament. There are a number of oddities about a historic occasion: the kick-off for GB against New Zealand at 4pm today is more than 48 hours before the official opening ceremony; the city is Cardiff not London; and it will be the first time a GB women's side has taken the field for a competitive game. But then Olympics football has always been a strange beast.
For all the distinctly mixed feelings in Wales and Scotland about football's Team GB, Cardiff and Glasgow will stage matches as football takes the Games of the thirtieth Olympiad furthest and widest. The reason for starting so early is to allow adequate rest periods, as the women's competition also involves quarter-finals even though there are only 12 teams, divided into three groups. To that end, two of the third-placed teams will make up the last eight, which Powell hopes will not be necessary in GB's case from Group E (the men's groups are A-D, the women's E-G). "Obviously, we want to go as far as we can, a podium finish if possible," Powell said yesterday. "First we have to get out of the group and if we play well and have a little good fortune, who knows?"
Last year's World Cup provides a useful form guide, especially as there are no age restrictions in either tournament for women. Japan won it by beating the United States in a penalty shoot-out. Sweden and France were the beaten semi-finalists, England having gone out on penalties in the quarter-final (sound familiar?). Great Britain should theoretically be stronger than Powell's England team, although two Scots are the only non-Englishwomen in the squad of 18, which no longer includes the former captain Faye White but still has six Arsenal Ladies.
Brazil, whom the British side meet at Wembley next Tuesday, and Cameroon make up Group E and play immediately after tomorrow's match in a double-header expected to attract around 40,000. That will be a record for a modern women's match in Britain, which will then be broken for the game against Brazil. The Brazilians, like their male counterparts, are regarded as strong in attack, less so in defence.
What will definitely change is the mould of women's Olympic football. In the last three competitions, remarkably, the medals have gone to the US, Brazil and Germany in that order. This time, unusually for any major international tournament, there is no German presence.
Obviously we want to go as far as we can, a podium finish if possible. First we have to get out of the group